Police arrest rabbis calling for ceasefire during demonstration near Gaza-Israel border

Seven rabbis and peace activists were arrested Friday near the Gaza border after attempting to bring food supplies into the territory, according to two participants and the group that organized the operation.

The detainees were part of a group of about 30 Israeli and US rabbis and activists who were stopped by police officers as they tried to reach the Erez crossing, a major transit point between Israel and northern Gaza.

Organized by Rabbis for Ceasefire, a US-based peace movement, the effort was aimed at building support for a truce and highlighting growing reports of starvation in Gaza. A global authority on food security, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative, has predicted an imminent famine in northern Gaza, the area of ​​the territory closest to Erez.

The protest was timed to coincide with the week of Passover, a Jewish holiday that celebrates the biblical story of the Jews' liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt.

“We were pointing out that Jewish liberation is tied to Palestinian liberation, that we want freedom for all,” said Toba Spitzer, a Boston rabbi who attended the protest but was not arrested.

The group had attempted to enter Gaza in a pickup truck carrying a half-ton of rice and flour, but was stopped about a third of a mile from the border, Rabbi Spitzer said. The effort was largely symbolic, and organizers expected it to fail given restrictions along the border; the supplies will now be donated to needy Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Rabbi Spitzer said.

The Israeli police did not respond to requests for comment.

Among those arrested was writer Ayelet Waldman of Berkeley, California, her husband, writer Michael Chabon, said on Instagram.

There is widespread food shortage in Gaza. Israeli restrictions on where convoys can enter the Strip, Israeli shelling and widespread damage to roads, the collapse of Gaza's agriculture and the breakdown of law and order have made the safe distribution of aid more difficult.

Humanitarian groups and United Nations officials have accused Israel of systematically limiting aid delivery. Israel denies that claim, blaming the shortage on logistical failures by humanitarian groups, and has recently increased the number of trucks entering the Strip.

Israeli officials say the Erez crossing, used mainly for pedestrian traffic before the war, is difficult to use for aid delivery because it lacks adequate infrastructure and was badly damaged during the Hamas-led raid on Israel in October.

According to a poll conducted in February by the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based research group, a majority of Israeli Jews oppose providing more aid to Gaza.

Israeli protesters regularly gather at another crossing point further south, trying to block humanitarian convoys entering Gaza.

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