Before Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and the war that ensued, Kerem Shalom was the main commercial crossing between Israel and Gaza. Today, it’s one of just two entry points for lifesaving food and medicine to the besieged enclave, where aid agencies say civilians are on the brink of famine.
But De Bresser and his three companions are determined to keep any trucks from getting through, and they aren’t bothered if innocents suffer: “War is war,” De Bresser shrugs. The United States didn’t care about civilians when it blew up Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Who gives his enemy aid?”
Scrawny and wearing an inside-out T-shirt, De Bresser appears an unlikely leader. But he has credentials. He has lived in Yitzhar, a settlement in the West Bank notorious for its violence against neighboring Palestinians, and has been arrested a dozen times, including during demonstrations backing Israel’s contentious judicial overhaul.
Tattooed on his neck is a fist raised against a blue Star of David, the emblem of the Jewish Defense League, founded in New York by the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane and designated by the FBI a terrorist organization. The group launched bombings against Palestinian and Arab targets in the 1970s and ’80s but is now largely inactive.
“He’s old-school,” explains Bnayahu Ben Shabat, 23, a friend of De Bresser’s, before they set out on their journey. Ben Shabat is in charge of special projects for Im Tirtzu, a right-wing Zionist organization.
Special projects such as the one they have in store this early Wednesday morning.
De Bresser and Ben Shabat have been protesting the aid for several weeks. Camping is a new idea.
The Israel Defense Forces — ostensibly, at least — have made Kerem Shalom a closed military zone since late January. But there are no checkpoints at night, making it easier to bring in busloads of protesters. Still, Ben Shabat wants to take the winding roads through the farmland, to stay on the right side of the court order that bans him from some parts of the area.
When the group finally reaches the crossing, a motor coach full of campers is already waiting.
A lone police car sits just inside the open gates, its blue and red lights flashing. But teenagers inside are unperturbed, streaming off the coach and through the open gates, screaming with excitement.
Inside, they shake hands with soldiers and begin to line up their tents.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, visiting this month, called on Israel to ensure the passage of aid for Gaza through Kerem Shalom. But there’s no apparent effort here to stop the teens.
One asks a soldier if he can drive his car into the crossing point. The soldier says it’s fine by him but he’s not sure whether the police will stop him. “I don’t think they will,” he says. “Good luck. Turn on your lights.”
A voice over a loudspeaker instructs protesters to grab sleeping bags and tents. “Welcome to whoever came,” It says. “Champions — really, champions.”
At 3 a.m., Tahel Attar, 17, offers around soup. “The army is with us, the police is with us,” she says. “They don’t want us to be here, but they get it. They let us. We are talking with them, we are having fun with them, we are offering them everything they need.”
Some pose with soldiers for a picture. “Am Yisreal Chai!” they yell. The people of Israel live.
The boom of an explosion inside Gaza reaches the camp. Cheers and whoops go up. Rafah, the border town where Israel has said it is mounting a new assault, is less than five miles away.
De Bresser updates in his WhatsApp group.
“The gate is open! You can get by car right to the crossing (just move the car far afterwards).” Trucks will be blocked. “Triumph!”
The teens, and a smattering of people in their twenties, have come from all over Israel. They say that humanitarian aid to Gaza helps Hamas, and they’ll block it even if it means innocents starve.
Ben Shabat argues sugar and flour can be used to make bombs. “When you mix flour with potassium nitrate you get an explosive for a warhead,” he says. “Every pound of sugar and flour that goes into Gaza from Israel, we will get it back by the way of a rocket that will kill our children.”
The tactic is also about starvation. “When a soldier is hungry, he’s not fighting so well.”
And the children? “Nobody can say children are bad,” he says. But “the children from the past were murdering and raping and kidnapping” on Oct. 7.
Others say the aid isn’t even necessary.
“We heard they are giving them stuff that they don’t really, really need,” Attar says. “Like strawberries. I don’t think people there are crying for strawberries.”
Hadas Kremer, a 17-year-old with curly blond hair from the Orthodox settlement of Otniel near Hebron, explains that Palestinians who are unhappy and hungry in Gaza should leave. Israel pays for them to exit, she says. In reality, the vast majority of Gazans have no way to flee.
With dawn comes a new busload of demonstrators, ultra-Orthodox children and teens from northern Israel. They strap on their tefillin and pray. Some dance. A group with a guitar sing songs about the military. They use the border crossing bathrooms. No one asks them to leave.
Every explosion in Gaza raises a cheer.
“Dead, dead, dead Arabs,” one camper shouts at a roaring volley of outgoing fire. Then she notes the presence of a reporter. “Hamas,” she corrects herself.
In the morning, aid trucks stretch along the Israeli border with Egypt. Amid a sudden panic that deliveries might be allowed to enter through a gate normally used as an exit, the protesters shifted their tents.
Israeli soldiers look on. “Man, don’t you feel don’t you feel like shooting off a round over there?” asks one demonstrator, looking out toward Egypt.
“I don’t want them to shoot you,” the soldier replies. “You are more important.”
But the new position of some of the tents appears more irksome to the Israeli military. At 10 a.m., a group of high-ranking officers arrives. Among them is Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar, a former chief of the general staff, now a reservist.
“We will leave here when there is a video of General Yossi Bachar saying not one truck will pass though this gate today,” De Bresser says. The demonstrators are assured that no goods will be allowed to enter as long as they move back from the border fence.
They do so. The trucks idle.
The IDF referred questions on why the protesters were allowed to remain at the crossing to COGAT, the Defense Ministry agency that oversees Palestinian civil affairs and crossing points. COGAT did not respond to requests for comment. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it could not provide data on how many trucks have been disrupted at the crossing. The office does not have a presence at the border point.
By early afternoon on Wednesday, many teens have left for school and family. Still, the dozen or so children who remain, with a smattering of adults, manage to keep any aid for entering Gaza.
A group of kids who moved barbed wire and a log to form a barrier in front of their tents begins to turn back.
The kids blare electronic music. Gaza rattles with machine-gun fire.
Earlier demonstrators had “folded” and gone home, said De Bresser. But he vows to stay on.
After blocking the entrance to the crossing for four days, police attempted to move what was left of the camp on Saturday, De Bresser says. He puts out a new plea for protesters on WhatsApp.
“All the people of Israel should come and support!”
Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem contributed.