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As war drags on, protests in Israel become more political - calls for early elections heard alongside calls for hostage deal

Protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv see increased use of force by police

Demonstrators protest calling for the for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, outside Defense Headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2024. (Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Large protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem saw increased police involvement on Saturday night

In Tel Aviv, a group of demonstrators demanding an immediate hostage release deal linked up with anti-government protesters to block Begin Street – blowing horns, setting off smoke grenades and lighting bonfires on the street. 

Police brought in horse-mounted units and a water cannon to disperse the crowds. 

Some of the protesters broke away from the activity on Begin Street and moved to the Ayalon Highway, where they blocked several lanes of traffic. Police arrived sometime later to disperse the group. 

According to Israel Police, only one protester was arrested for causing a disturbance during the Tel Aviv demonstration. 

In Jerusalem, protesters gathered outside of the President’s Residence, as in past protests, where several speakers denounced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the coalition government. 

Demonstrators protest calling for the for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, near the Prime Minister's official residence in Jerusalem, March 16, 2024. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Bezalel Cohen, the founder of the Hachmey Lev Yeshiva, said that many in the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] community are willing to compromise, but current Israeli leadership is not capable of reaching an agreement. 

“Many in the Haredi community strongly feel that the current situation is inappropriate and must be changed, significantly, as soon as possible,” Cohen told the crowd. 

“They feel it, deep in their hearts, the illogic and injustice of the current situation, and they seek to correct it and to share in the defense of the nation and the land,” he continued.

The rabbi also said that Israel lacked leadership “capable of leading this process.” 

In February, War Cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot submitted a plan for increasing Haredi military enlistment, but the plan was rejected by members of the coalition government. The issue of Haredi men avoiding the draft has been problematic since the mandatory draft was instituted. 

Reservist Lt.-Col. Benny Barbash, a writer and screenwriter, quoted Deuteronomy 30:19 when speaking to the crowds about a call for early elections. 

“We are at the most important and critical period in the entire history of the Zionist movement,” Barbash said. “One path, of Netanyahu and his government, leads to an abyss of corruption, degeneracy, crash, and destruction. A second path leads towards repair, restoration, reconciliation, and – if we try hard enough – also to peace, prosperity, and security for us and our neighbors.” 

Barbash then quoted from Deuteronomy: “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse; Choose life so that you and your offspring will live,” he said, before calling for early elections. 

Several family members of Hamas hostages also addressed the crowds in Jerusalem. 

Evgenia Kozlov, the mother of Russian-Israeli hostage Andrey Kozlov, told the crowd about how her life was “ruined” after her son was kidnapped from the Nova rave party, where he was working as a security guard. 

“My life was ruined,” she told the crowds in Russian. “I don’t know Hebrew, I get help from my friend, Google Translate and Google Maps.” 

She complained that while time moves on, the relatives of the hostages are not able to move on. 

“Five months have passed, people are starting to forget, the wind has destroyed our posters,” she said, “but we are still living on October 7.” 

Police said they arrested two protesters at the Jerusalem protests for disorderly conduct.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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