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Thousands of Israelis demonstrate against Netanyahu government

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli Agence France-Presse Crowds spread for several blocks around the Knesset, Israel's parliament, on Sunday, and organizers vowed to continue the demonstration for several days.

Wafaa Shurafa – Associated Press, Melanie Lidman – Associated Press, Samy Magdy – Associated Press respectively in Deir al-Balah, Jerusalem and Cairo

March 31, 2024

  • Middle East

Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in front of the Parliament building in Jerusalem on Sunday in the largest anti-government demonstration since the country entered the war in October.

Protesters urged the government to reach a ceasefire deal to free dozens of hostages held by the Hamas militant group in Gaza and to hold elections sooner.

The Israeli population was largely united immediately after October 7, when Hamas killed some 1,200 people and took 250 hostages in a cross-border attack. However, nearly six months of conflict have rekindled divisions, even if Israel remains largely in favor of war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to destroy Hamas and bring all the hostages home, but those goals proved elusive. Although the Hamas militant group has suffered heavy losses, it is holding on.

Nearly half of Gaza's hostages were freed during a week-long ceasefire in November. But repeated attempts by international mediators to negotiate a new ceasefire to repatriate the remaining hostages have failed.

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For the families of the hostages, time is running out. “After six months, it looks like the government understands that “Bibi” Netanyahu is an obstacle,” said protester Einav Moses, whose father-in-law, Gadi Moses, is being held hostage.

The crowd stretched for several blocks around the Knesset, Israel's parliament, and organizers vowed to continue the demonstration for several days. They urged the government to hold new elections almost two years ahead of schedule. Thousands of people also demonstrated in Tel Aviv.

Benjamin Netanyahu said he understood the families' pain in a nationally televised speech just before undergoing hernia surgery on Sunday. But he added that calling new elections – in what he described as a moment before achieving victory – would paralyze Israel for six to eight months and undermine talks aimed at recovering the hostages.

Mr. Netanyahu's governing coalition appears to remain firmly intact, and even if he were ousted, his main rival, Benny Gantz, is a member of the war cabinet and would likely continue many of his policies.

Benjamin Netanyahu also reiterated his promise of a ground military offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza, where more than half of the territory's 2.3 million inhabitants are now refugees after fled the fighting elsewhere. “There is no victory without going to Rafah,” he said, adding that American pressure would not dissuade him. The Israeli army claims that Hamas battalions are gathered there.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116