Protesters gathered at demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheva and other cities throughout Israel on Saturday evening, demanding the release of the remaining 136 hostages still being held captive in Gaza.
The post-Shabbat gatherings took place just two days after a large group gathered in Jerusalem to protest against ending the war prematurely.
The main demonstration on Saturday evening took place at ‘Hostages Square’ in Tel Aviv, where several thousand people reportedly gathered. At least seven people were arrested for blocking parts of the Ayalon Highway and making bonfires.
The protest organizer, Sivan Cohen Sabag, co-founder of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, railed against what she said was the growing division surrounding the issue of the hostages.
“Several weeks ago we couldn’t have even imagined that hostages would become [seen as] left-wing and soldiers would be [seen as] right-wing,” Sabag said.
Einav Zangauker, mother of Matan Zangauker, who was abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, called for the fighting in Gaza to end to allow for “a deal that could bring the hostages tomorrow morning.”
Zangauker accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “hiding the terms from us and preventing the deal.”
The Hamas terror organization has reportedly demanded a full withdrawal of IDF troops from the Gaza Strip, along with a months-long ceasefire and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. Netanyahu has rejected those terms as “delusional.”
In Jerusalem, hundreds gathered outside of the President’s Residence and an even larger crowd gathered at Paris Square, near the Prime Minister’s official residence, where desperation was intertwined with political views.
“Netanyahu has started his scare campaign –we know them from the past: ‘Peres will divide Jerusalem’; ‘The Arabs are arriving in droves to vote’; ‘The Iranian nuclear project’ – and now he scares us that there will be a massacre if we accept the terms of the deal [with Hamas],” said Danny Elgarat, whose brother Itzik Elgarat was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz.
“Only stopping the war and retrieving the hostages will restore faith in Israel’s sovereignty,” he added.
“They are making decisions for the survival of the coalition,” claimed activist Michal Hadas Rubin. “There are more and more injured soldiers, soldiers who have been killed, but hey, the coalition is surviving. The leadership should only act and do what is good for the country.”
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Malka, a former head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Directorate, also weighed in on the political debate, suggesting that a new election is the way forward.
“2024 is the year when the fate of the country will be determined. These kinds of challenges can only be met by a government that has the trust of the country. And this government does not have the trust of the public,” Malka said.
Eli Cohen, the uncle of murdered hostage Inbar Haiman, said that the people in the south could not be further abandoned: “Our loved ones were abandoned [on Oct. 7] and they all must be brought back – those alive for rehabilitation and the dead for a proper burial.”
“We can handle any price,” said Moti Fogel, the brother of Udi Fogel, who was murdered by terrorists in 2011, along with his wife and three of their children.
“The lives of our brothers and sisters are in danger. The hostages are our heroes who need us. The families of the hostages are our heroes. We’ll pay any price to get them home.”
“We hope we won’t have to be here next week,” said one of the protest organizers. “We hope the hostages will be back home, in their beds, with their loved ones.”
On Thursday night, protesters who were calling for the Israeli government to remain strong in its objectives to destroy Hamas and return the hostages sought to play down the perception that the two camps are divided.
“We have the same objectives,” Stu Freedman, father of a reservist fighting in Gaza, told i24 news.
“We have similar goals. It’s just that they’re putting the hostages first and the war effort second, whereas we are switching that. We believe the best way to save the hostages is to exert enormous military pressure on Hamas, and teach them, once and for all, that stealing our people, and kidnapping them, and torturing them, is not going to pay off.”
Family members of the hostages also participated in the rally on Thursday evening.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu pledged to continue the fight until “total victory” against Hamas is achieved, however, he has been facing mounting pressure to put a halt to plans for a full offensive on the last terror stronghold of Rafah.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.