Tel Aviv Police, Anti-Netanyahu Protesters Clash as Thousands of Israelis Join Hostage Families in Mass Rally

Bar Peleg, Adi Hashmonai/Haaretz

Tel Aviv Police, Anti-Netanyahu Protesters Clash as Thousands of Israelis Join Hostage Families in Mass RallyIsraelis protest the Netanyahu government, call for hostage deal in Tel Aviv, Saturday. (Photo: Jack Guez/AFP)

31 march 24 (RSN.org)

Protesters block major Tel Aviv highway, clashes erupt between police and protesters as families of hostages held in Gaza announce escalation in fight for hostage release deal and thousands demonstrate across Israel against the government, for early elections

Some 20 relatives of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza called to immediately replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday evening, while thousands of people protested against the government and in support of releasing the hostages in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Be’er Sheva, Caesarea and other cities.

The families of hostages called on ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot, as well as other Knesset members, to join them in ousting Netanyahu, who they accused of intentionally undermining a deal to free their loved ones.

Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan is being held in Gaza, said in a special media address that they “are forced today to begin a new phase in our just fight, from this moment on, we will take action to immediately remove [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] from power.”

“After you abandoned our family members on October 7, after 176 days in which you failed to secure a hostage release deal, and because you are constantly torpedoing this deal – it is clear that you are the obstacle preventing this deal,” added Zangauker.

The main protest in Tel Aviv, where thousands of protesters have gathered, is taking place amid warning letters sent on Friday by the Tel Aviv District Police Commander to several prominent demonstrators. In the letters titled “Imminent Risk to Human Life,” the district commander warned the demonstrators against blocking roads and setting tires on fire.

Zangauker added later Saturday during her speech at the main Tel Aviv protest on Kaplan Street that “I voted for you, Mr. Prime Minister … You no longer have a public and moral mandate to determine such fateful matters for the State of Israel … I am revoking from you the mandate I gave you in the election.”

Yasmin Porat, who escaped from Pessi Cohen’s house in Kibbutz Be’eri before it was shelled, joined the anti-government protest in Tel Aviv and said that “For six months the government, which has the blood of my partner and thousands of others who were murdered on its hands, has been waging this cursed war. What are they thinking? That they’ll take 134 coffins out of Gaza and declare victory?”

“Without the hostages there is no victory, and there will be no hope for the country. Only when the last hostage is here will the State of Israel be resurrected … This is the most important struggle in the history of the country,” continued Porat.

Ran Har Nevo, a prominent leader of the anti-government protest movement, said at the protest – where demonstrators lit bonfires outside the Israeli army’s military HQ in the city – that the promotion of the judicial overhaul last year played a role in the October 7 attack: “They acted like madmen, with disdain for the rule of law, drunk on power, and they neglected our security.”

“In order to survive in power, [Netanyahu] trained the messianic fringes,” said Har Nevo, adding that even now, the prime minister continues to harm the country through the “evasion law,” by violating the police’s independence, and by attacking the judicial system.

Haaretz columnist and former Israeli Consul in New York, Alon Pinkas, said at the Tel Aviv protest that there is “One person who disrespects the hostages, disrespects the IDF, disrespects presidents of the U.S., clashes with the world.”

“What do you do with such a person? Elections,” said Pinkas. “When this person refuses to take responsibility … Openly lies about what he has been doing for years regarding Hamas … What do we do with him? Elections.

The weekly demonstration of the Hostage Families Forum took place simultaneous to the anti-government protests Saturday night at the Hostages Square, outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. After 20 minutes of fiery speeches, the family members and freed hostages implored the audience to take action: To take to the streets and make their voices heard. The crowd was directed to the Israeli army’s military HQ in Tel Aviv and Dizengoff Street in the city center.

The police had prepared Saturday in Tel Aviv with reinforced forces ahead of the expected protests, and Begin Road was later blocked by police. Lawmaker Gilad Kariv took to the microphone at the protest outside the military headquarters in Tel Aviv and asked police to remove the trucks from Begin Road and allow people to join the protest. Clashes broke out between the police and those arriving from Hostages Square to Kaplan street, during which one police officer pushed Eli Elbag, the father of hostage Liri Elbag.

The police attempted to disperse protesters from Begin Road and further clashes occurred, after which the police used water canons as well as sound cannons – strong loudspeakers – to break up the protests for around two minutes. Demonstrators pushed through a police blockade and blocked Ayalon Highway in central Tel Aviv later Saturday night.

Police announced that they have arrested 16 protesters for “attempting to block Ayalon Highway,” and fined nine for “disrupting traffic.”

Hundreds gathered earlier Saturday evening outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private residence in the Israeli town of Caesarea, demanding to hold an election ahead of its planned date.

Ex-IDF intelligence chief Amos Malka said at the Caesarea demonstration that “Netanyahu’s destructive mindset requires a declaration of cognitive and leadership incapacity,” adding that every additional day the prime minister remains in office poses “a clear and immediate risk” to Israel’s security.

“For a whole week, Netanyahu is only concerned with the draft-dodging law to preserve the coalition, not with kidnappings, not with the day after, and not with the American initiative,” added Malka.

Hundreds of protesters also marched towards central Haifa calling for a hostage release deal. Noam Dan, a relative of hostage Ofer Kalderon, said at the protest that “For 176 days we have insisted on real change, to be rescued, for responsibility to be taken. I’ve spoken nicely and politely, and I’ve spoken angrily … I realized that nothing would help our hostages.”

“We need agreements that will save lives, revenge is not a work plan,” continued Dan, adding that “we have 176 reasons to remove Netanyahu from power and save ourselves from ourselves.”

Fighter pilot Col. (res.) Nir Yarkoni said that “Netanyahu is dangerous not only for the hostages, but … for the existence of the State of Israel” and added that “the most efficient and safe way to return the hostages alive is to replace the prime minister immediately.”

“Emergency times call for emergency measures to be taken. We will not survive [until elections next year] … The hostages will not survive until then,” Yarkoni added.

In Be’er Sheva, speakers included a Bedouin-Israeli city council member, and a Knesset Member from the opposition party Yesh Atid. Protesters also blocked Rager Boulevard in the southern Israeli city. In Jerusalem, around two thousand people protested at Paris Square in the city center, some of whom later marched to the President’s Residence.

On Sunday, the major protest organizations are expected to demonstrate in Jerusalem, and some of them will camp in tents near the Knesset. In the evening hours, the demonstrators are expected to march to the prime minister’s residence on Azza Street in the city center.

In recent weeks, clashes have unfolded between police officers and demonstrators over attempts to block Begin Road and Ayalon Highway in central Tel Aviv. Last week, 15 demonstrators were arrested during protests in the city, and four demonstrators, including two relatives of hostages, were detained in Tel Aviv for blocking a road. According to protest organizations’ records, around 120 demonstrators were arrested, detained, or investigated in February and March.

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