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Relatives’ fury and frustration showcased at hostages rally; masses call for elections

At the weekly rally in Tel Aviv for the return of hostages from Gaza, organizers for the first time handed over the microphone for the entire duration of the event to the relatives of more than 40 families whose loved ones were abducted.

The organizers of the rally, the 19th consecutive one held at Tel Aviv’s so-called Hostages Square on Saturday, dispensed with the musical intermissions and speeches by security experts from previous events.

Instead, they let the thousands of attendants hear heartfelt addresses by relatives of hostages, who shared their emotional pain and frustration with the government, which they urged to negotiate with Hamas on hostage release deal.

Unfiltered and unedited, the hostages’ voices gave insight into the plurality of opinions among the families pushing for a deal — some have said the hostages’ release should come at any cost and others said it should not — and their various ways of dealing with the anguish and uncertainty that have taken over their lives 134 days ago, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 and abducting 253 people of all ages.

  • Yifat Zeiler, a cousin of hostage Yarden Bibas, addressed in her speech “The people who aren’t here on the square because they are afraid to come here and cry out with us. We need you,” said Zeiler.

She said there was “no partisanship in our struggle,” a statement repeated by multiple speakers at Saturday’s rally.

Yarden Bibas, his wife Shiri and their two red-headed children, Kfir and Ariel, are among the icons of the movement to retrieve the 134 hostages believed to be held in Gaza, 130 of whom were taken on October 7. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 30 of them, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Varda Alexander, the grandmother of Edan Alexander, a soldier held hostage in Gaza who grew up in the United States and enlisted into the Israel Defense Forces as a lone soldier, invoked the wisdom of King Solomon to inspire Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers.

  • “Solomon asked God for a heart that listens, with which to hear the people. I ask you, prime minister and cabinet ministers: Hear the people’s hearts,” she said.

Yet other speakers did present a partisan line, including Shlomo Alfasa Goren, a relative of Maya Goren, who was abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz and whose body is being held by Hamas.

  • “You, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and successive governments have abandoned [us] for years. You abandoned Holocaust survivors, including my 93-year-old parents, the health and welfare systems, the emergency room in Kiryat Shmona, the defense established that you had defunded and the residents of Sderot and Ofakim. You abandoned, abandoned, abandoned,” he shouted.

Surging anti-government protests

Goren’s indictment was unusual for the rally at Hostages Square but a common theme at the multiple protests held across the country against Netanyahu and his government for several consecutive weeks on Saturday nights.

  • At around the same time as the rally organized at Hostages Square on Saturday night by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, anti-government protesters gathered at some 50 locations across the country, including by thousands opposite the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and his private residence in Caesarea.

In Tel Aviv, thousands defied a police ban on holding a large rally against the government at Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street, ostensibly due to its proximity to the demonstration for the hostages. The Kaplan Street protesters blocked the road, where they also started at least one large fire and scuffled with police. Road blockages also occurred at the Ra’anana Junction, the coastal road and opposite the homes of multiple coalition members, including lawmakers Yuli Edelstein and Amir Ohana, the Knesset speaker, and cabinet minister Ofir Akunis.

Police said they arrested at least 10 people in various protests.

  • At the Hostages Square rally, multiple speakers protested Netanyahu’s decision not to send a delegation to Cairo for talks with Hamas via mediators.

Netanyahu has said that no advancements could be made in hostage negotiations until Hamas withdrew its “delusional” demands.

  • The Palestinian terror group’s demands include moves toward a permanent ceasefire, a withdrawal of troops from Gaza, reconstruction of the enclave, and the release of some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, among them numerous convicted killers and terror masterminds, in exchange for the remaining hostages taken on October 7.
  • Israel has said such demands are non-starters.

The decision prompted outrage among representatives of the hostages’ families, and reportedly angered war cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot of the National Unity party.

  • Alfasa Goren said Saturday that “no price is too high for the hostages, for us not to bury them. We demand the cabinet not miss the chance to bring the hostages back through the Cairo initiative. The lives of 134 people are in your hands,” .

But Haim Rubinstein, the spokesman of the forum, said the organization as such did not believe in a deal at any cost.

  • “Hamas demands may be high, and we’re not calling for a deal at any price, we understand. But the negotiation only started, get into the negotiation room now,” said Rubinstein, who termed Saturday’s special rally “The Rally of Cries.”

Multiple speakers spoke of a deal at any cost, whereas others said this is not their position, and that they merely want to see the government pursue negotiations.

Or Gat, whose sister Carmel Gat was abducted from Kibbutz Be’eri, was among the relatives who specified precisely what they mean by calling for a deal at all costs. He opened his address with an apology to his sister for what he considered her “abandonment.”

  • He also asked for her forgiveness “for having to see mom after they shot her in the head,” a reference to his late mother Kinneret Gat.

“The price is security prisoners and an end to the fighting. Everybody knows this,” said Or Gat.

Unlike Gat and other families represented by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, some relatives of hostages who belong to the right-wing Tikvah Forum oppose making far-reaching concessions to Hamas for their loved ones’ release.

They argue the release must be done by force or without affecting the government’s wartime goal of dismantling the terror group, along with the hostages’ retrieval.

  • Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, both far-right lawmakers, have publicly opposed making what they termed “a reckless deal” with Hamas for the remaining hostages. Ben Gvir has threatened to pull out of the government to topple it if such a deal is pursued.

This position last month between Ben Gvir and Smotrich, far-right politicians, has considerably politicized the debate around the hostages issue. Some of the rhetoric by the speakers on Hostages Square Saturday reflected this change.

Ela Metzger, the daughter-in-law of hostage Yoram Metzger, said that Netanyahu “seems to be stalling on a deal because this is in his favor: The public will fall asleep, the emotion will run out. It turns out that it’s more convenient for Netanyahu is the hostages were dead,” she charged.

Netanyahu has vowed to “do everything possible” to retrieve the hostages.

At a press conference on Saturday night, he said that “not fighting in Rafah would mean losing war” and that a hostage deal was “not very close.”

Gil Dikman, a relative of Carmel Gat, accused Netanyahu of scheduling a press conference on Saturday night “especially to drown out” the rally.

Some of the speakers also praised at least some aspects of Netanyahu’s handling of the war.

  • Dvora Idan, whose son Tsahi Idan was taken captive by Hamas in Kibbutz Nahal Oz by terrorists who murdered his oldest daughter Maayan Idan, 18, said that in four months in Gaza, Netanyahu has “had dramatic achievements.”

But, she added, “there’s one more dramatic achievement to be had to close the circle of achievements: Bring back all the hostages home.”

Source: TOI