GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A small group of ultra-Orthodox Jews were preparing Friday to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath in Gaza, in an unlikely show of support for Palestinians in the Hamas-run coastal territory.
Bearded and wearing black hats and coats, the four members of a tiny Jewish group vehemently opposed to Israel's existence were a rare sight in the poverty-stricken Palestinian territory.
Members of the Neturei Karta group have expressed support for the Iranian regime and for others who oppose the Jewish state, which they believe was established in violation of Jewish law. They made a similar visit to Gaza earlier this year.
"It's crucial that the people of Gaza understand the terrible tragedy here is not in the name of Judaism," said one of the men, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of New York City, as the four prepared to observe the Sabbath at a Gaza City hotel.
Gaza is still recovering from Israel's devastating military offensive a year ago, which was aimed at halting rocket fire from the territory. Thirteen Israelis and almost 1,400 Gazans were killed in the three-week war.
The four men are American and Canadian citizens. Israel bans its citizens from visiting the blockaded territory. Weiss and his comrades entered Gaza through a border crossing with Egypt.
Neturei Karta, Aramaic for "Guardians of the City," was founded seven decades ago in Jerusalem by Jews who opposed the drive to establish the state of Israel, believing only the Messiah could do that.
Considered marginal even among ultra-Orthodox Jews, the group's size is estimated at between a few hundred to a few thousand people.