Thousands of people gathered at the recently renamed Captives Square in central Tel Aviv Saturday night to show support for the families of the hundreds of people held hostage by the Hamas terror group in Gaza.
Shortly after the rally, remaining participants, including families of some of the hostages, were forced to scramble for cover as rockets were launched from Gaza at the central city and surrounding areas, a reminder of the war still raging in the south as Israel seeks to topple Hamas while also seeking the captives’ release.
There were no reports of injuries or damage in the barrage, which has become a regular occurrence since war erupted a month ago.
And in Jerusalem and elsewhere, hundreds renewed protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing the premier of mishandling the war and hostage negotiations and calling for his resignation.
Outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, participants held up posters with pictures of those kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on October 7, calling for them to be brought home even as they expressed a variety of views on how to best achieve that goal.
Ramos Aloni, whose daughters Danielle and Sharon are being held captive with their small children and Sharon’s husband, said Israel should only accede to demands for humanitarian aid and a ceasefire “if it goes two ways.”
- “If the prime minister is saying, ‘Together we will win,’ together means with the captives,” Aloni told the crowd. “No ceasefire without releasing all the captives.”
At least 246 people were abducted by Hamas terrorists who rampaged through southern Israel on October 7, the vast majority civilians, including young children and the elderly. Four people have been released and a soldier was freed by troops who have entered Gaza to eliminate Hamas. There are also two Israelis who have been held in Gaza since 2014.
Netanyahu has come under pressure from some families to consider an offer dangled by Hamas to release all captives in exchange for all of its prisoners being held by Israel. Netanyahu’s administration has dismissed the offer as an insincere ploy, and has also resisted calls for a humanitarian pause in the fighting without receiving hostages in exchange.
Opening the rally, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai referenced the anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin exactly 28 years earlier.
- Rabin “knew how to make difficult decisions,” Huldai said.
Netanyahu must now do so and bring back all the captives, said Huldai.
- “We understand how big this hour is,” he said.
In between the speakers, the crowd bursts into chants of “Bring them home — now!”
Gabi Yarkoni, head of the Eshkol Regional Council on the Gaza border, addressed Gazans directly in a speech, noting that many had once found employment in the kibbutzim and other agricultural communities attacked on October 7, in an assault that left some 1,400 people dead, the vast majority civilians.
- “You were our neighbors, we gave you work, we wanted you to have good lives,” said Yarkoni. “But this period is over, no more good neighbors without giving us back our people.”
Merav Leshem Ronen, whose 23-year-old daughter, Romi, was taken captive from the Nova music rave, offered her own threat to Hamas.
- “To the leaders of Hamas we say, if you took our beloved ones, you will be in danger wherever you are, all over the world,” she said.
Turning to her daughter, who will mark 30 days in Hamas captivity on Sunday, she added “we won’t forget anyone in there, we are here for one another.”
Haim Jellin, a former head of the Eshkol council and a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the worst-hit communities, said the war could only be completed with the end of Hamas and the return of all hostages.
He described the recovery of the once vibrant region, which has suffered years of Gazan rocket attacks and a seemingly endless procession of wars, noting the people of Israel lining up with flags, “as we rebury our dead in our communities and our factories and fields, and build new houses and replant the Negev green,” said Jellin.
- “Mr. Prime Minister, bring back our captives and our security,” he added.
“We were the human shield on that border,” said Shir Segal, whose parents Aviva and Keith were abducted from Kibbutz Kfar Aza. “This state didn’t protect its citizens and it’s a huge failure.”
Following the rally, many families remained in the square, where they planned on sleeping in tents for a second night as part of their protest.
In Jerusalem, members of the movement formed 10 months ago to protest Netanyahu over his government’s efforts to overhaul the judiciary gathered outside a home being used by the prime minister, accusing the premier of being responsible for failures in the lead-up and response to the October 7 massacres, which largely caught Israel off-guard.
- Protesters also called for Netanyahu to approve a swap deal for the captives, the Ynet news site reported.
After a period in which criticism of his government gave way to an overwhelming sense of unity in the wake of the attacks, Netanyahu has come under increasing attacks by critics in recent days, much of it over his refusal to take responsibility for all that went wrong.
Police clashed with protesters and arrested three people. They accused protesters of attempting to breach security outside the home where Netanyahu is staying, alleging that “parties” had attempted to “take advantage of the families’ protest to cause disorder,” seemingly referring to relatives of hostages and bereaved.
- In a statement, police also expressed dismay at what they said were chants among the crowd asking “Where were you” on October 7, referring to the time it took security forces to respond to the onslaught in many places.
- “Police lost 58 of their officers that morning, along with dozens who were injured defending residents of the Gaza border region,” the statement said.
During the rally, a protester identified as Ofir Baram, a resident of Kfar Aza who lost his son, aimed fire at Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman for the police attempts to contain the protest.
- “Turgeman and his people don’t understand that their job is to protect us. We’re what should be protected,” he said. “Don’t attack us, not with horses and not with water cannons.”
Smaller rallies calling for Netanyahu’s resignation were also held at other places around the country, including Pardes Hanna-Karkur and Beersheba. In Caesarea, where Netanyahu has a private residence, police said they had to separate demonstrators from a small group of counter-protesters, including a woman who accused them of “being Hamas’s representatives.”