Marchers and military head for Gaza stand-off

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The Independent Online

"This garbage" is a massive deployment of troops and police to stop Mrs Braun and an estimated 7,000 marchers reaching Kissufim, the main entry point to the Gaza settlements that the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to evacuate next month. For the marchers, who want to help the Gaza residents resist disengagement, and the Israeli government, which has insisted they will not reach Kissufim, the stakes are high.

Mrs Braun, 40, a fast-talking, good-humoured, politically-aware, occupational therapist, has the conversational style of a sassy American soccer mum: in fact, she emigrated to Israel from the US 20 years ago. The style but not the outlook. Unlike the average soccer mum, she is prepared to bring her family - her youngest child is nine - into what could prove a lengthy stand-off with tens of thousands of Israeli troops and police for a cause she defines in apocalyptic terms.

Mrs Braun does not mention the Holocaust when she compares the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw 8,500 settlers next month from the homes they have lived in for hardly more than 30 years to "events that happened 60 years ago." But when you question the comparison of those events with withdrawing settlers - who will be amply compensated - from an occupied territory, she says sharply. "I'll tell you how it's different. This time Jews are doing it to Jews."

Mrs Braun is ferociously pro-army. The Israeli military, she says, is in this episode "a pawn in Sharon's miserable game".

But her hostility to Mr Sharon, who "was elected on one platform and then did a 180 degree turn" is strong enough for her to have joined his ruling Likud party with the specific purpose of having a say in choosing a leader more to her taste.

Pointing out that the Likud Central Committee opposed disengagement, she says: "Those of us who actually toe the party line are being called the rebels. We are fighting for the God-given right to live in our own country and against the uprooting of people from their homes. This isn't a disengagement. It's expulsion."

Like the good mother she is, Mrs Braun, a baseball cap - in orange, the settlers' colour of choice - perched on the headscarf that she wears like many other religious Jewish women - has marshalled her own family, seeing they are equipped for nights under the stars.

Not to mention helping to organise the 300 residents who have joined the demonstration from the northern West Bank settlement of Karneish Shomron. Last night they and the Brauns prepared to spend their second night of sleeping out after police and troops, in effect, locked in the demonstrators -not to prevent them leaving but to prevent them continuing marching West. Three policemen were lightly injured when scuffling and fist fights broke out between settlers and police who determinedly closed the gates to this small Negev community, within Israel but some 15 miles from Gaza.