200 protesters break through police barriers in Jerusalem

After nearly six months of war, hostages’ families join with anti-government rallies

‘We will not meet here again,’ says father of abductee at Tel Aviv’s Hostages’ Square rally; tens of thousands at protests across Israel; over a dozen arrested in clashes with police

Israeli border patrol police forces clashing with protesters on Ayalon highway, Tel Aviv, March 30, 2024. (Gil Levin / sha_b_p@ / Israeli Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Tens of thousands of people turned out for mass protests across Israel on Saturday night, and the weekly demonstrations in Tel Aviv by the hostages’ families took a dramatic turn after speakers called on attendees to “take to the streets” and join the anti-government protesters in the heart of the city, announcing an apparent discontinuation of the separate gathering.

Eli Albag, father of Hamas-held hostage Liri Albag, said there would be no more separate protests at Hostages Square in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

“This is the last Shabbat that we will be here,” he said. “We won’t meet here anymore, we will be in the streets… this is the moment where we turn off the lights.”

The only light that remained on stage was from a giant screen with a message to protesters in Hostages Square: “Come with us to Begin [Street] and Dizengoff Street to make our shouts heard. All of them, now!”

“The rallies are over, the protests have just begun,” tweeted Hostages and Missing Families Forum spokesman Haim Rubinstein soon after the announcement from the stage.

Police made over a dozen arrests and deployed water cannons to disperse the demonstrations in Tel Aviv, where some protesters blocked major roads.

Clashes with police were also recorded in Jerusalem, where some 200 protesters burst through a set of police barriers to demonstrate about 100 yards from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on Azza Street, and in Caesarea where police detained protesters who blocked roads near Netanyahu’s private residence and chanted for him to resign.

Protesters also gathered in Sderot, Or Akiva, and Beersheba, in the wake of a public statement by hostage family members calling the longtime prime minister an “obstacle to a deal” to release the hostages.

A man holds up a sign with an image depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s during a protest against his government and to call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, March 30, 2024. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

The protests were among the largest since the war broke out on October 7 with Hamas’s shock onslaught that killed 1,200 and saw 253 taken hostage, about 130 of whom remain in Gaza, not all of them alive.

Efforts to secure a second hostage deal, following the one in November in which 105 were freed, have faltered but have not been called off.

Einav Zangauker, mother of Matan Zangauker, who is held hostage in Gaza, demands the ouster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a demonstration in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2024 (Facebook screenshot).

Einav Zangauker, the mother of Hamas captive Matan Zangauker, called Netanyahu’s handling of the hostage issue “incomprehensible and criminal,” in a speech on Saturday night in Jerusalem.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu, after you abandoned our families on October 7, and after 176 days in which you didn’t achieve a deal [for their return], and because you are continually engaged in torpedoing a deal, we have realized that you are the obstacle to the deal. You are the obstacle. You are the one who stands between us and the return home of our loved ones,” she said.

“From now,” she pledged, “we will work to immediately replace you. We have concluded that that is the fastest way to bring a deal… We will demonstrate and demand your ouster. We will publicly hound you.”

Protesters carry the Israeli flag during a demonstration for the Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas terrorists, in Tel Aviv, on March 30, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Earlier in the evening, an anti-government rally on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street kicked off with a lineup of speakers calling for new elections and Netanyahu’s ouster.

Yehuda Cohen, father of Nimrod Cohen, a soldier taken hostage on October 7, spoke to the Kaplan crowd, saying that he had talked with Netanyahu this week as part of a wider group of parents of abducted IDF soldiers and asked him what price Israel was willing to pay to return his son. He said that he never received an answer.

Cohen added that if Netanyahu cannot bring his son home, he should resign and let someone else try.

After the anti-government rally dispersed on Kaplan and participants in the hostage families’ protest left Hostages Square, a mass of demonstrators from both events converged at the nearby Begin Street, where Brothers and Sisters in Arms, a reservist group that was among the leaders of last year’s anti-judicial overhaul protests, called for the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Demonstrators light a bonfire amid calls for a deal to release hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, on Begin Street in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2024. (Iddo Schejter/The Times of Israel)

There was a large police presence throughout the entire area, with barricades on large chunks of Begin and Kaplan streets, as well as some of the exits to the Ayalon Highway to prevent protesters from blocking that road.

Like in previous weeks, protesters lit a bonfire on the road, which police extinguished, only for another one to be lit. Many demonstrators waved torches, a symbol of the hostages’ plight.

Organizers used the bridge above Begin Street as a makeshift podium from which family members of the hostages spoke one after the other, with more combative rhetoric than in previous weeks.

Protesters block a road during a demonstration by relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas terrorists, in Tel Aviv, on March 30, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Hadas Calderon, whose two children were released from Gaza while their father, Ofer Calderon, remains there, stressed to the crowd below that her children were released only through negotiations and that a deal must be made to release the rest of the hostages.

Early on in the protest on Begin Street, police commander Menashe Mansour declared the rally for a hostage deal illegal and urged protesters to disperse, setting off a series of skirmishes between demonstrators and officers. Though this is a weekly occurrence, an announcement had come at a much later stage on previous Saturday nights.

Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators from a highway during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group, in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2024. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

A group of protesters also managed to block part of Ayalon Highway and marched southward before police managed to disperse them with water cannons.

Police said they made 16 arrests overall in Tel Aviv and gave fines to nine people for disturbances and blocking traffic.

‘The excuses have run out’

Before the lights went out at Hostages’ Square, two former Hamas hostages who were freed during the truce deal in November spoke harshly about Netanyahu’s conduct, marking a change in tone for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum rallies whose speakers — until this week — made an effort to abstain from overt condemnation of the current government.

Aviva Siegel, whose husband Keith Siegel remains in captivity, called on Netanyahu and other members of the government to stop treating hostage negotiations “as if they are a children’s game.”

“You cannot bring back the delegation from Qatar without a deal,” she said onstage, referring to ongoing indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas in Doha.

“Do you hear me, Bibi? I don’t know if my husband is alive. Stop talking about victory, stop talking about military pressure. Nothing will work. Nothing has worked until now. They’re dying there every day,” she continued.

Freed hostage Aviva Siegel speaks at a weekly rally in Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, on March 30, 2024. (YouTube screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Raz Ben Ami, a freed hostage who was also released in November and whose husband is also still a hostage in Gaza, joined Siegel in urging the government to strike a deal with Hamas.

“They [the hostages] won’t last there, no one can survive what they go through there. Believe me,” said Ben Ami at the weekly Hostages and Missing Families forum protest in Tel Aviv’s Hostages’ Square.

Shira Albag, hostage Liri’s mother, called on protesters to take up the struggle “against indifference, and in support of life.”

“It’s been 176 days that I haven’t turned a blind eye to the thoughts and fear of what Liri and the other abductees are going through,” she said. “The people of Israel won’t forget or forgive anyone who prevents a deal that would bring them [the hostages] back to us. After 176 days, 4,224 hours, the excuses have run out.”

‘Increasing the pressure’ on Netanyahu

At the weekly Jerusalem protest, Udi Goren, cousin of Tal Haimi who was killed while defending Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on October 7, said that his cousin’s new baby is about to be born.

“Listen to me, they’re coming home, until the very last one. It’s on us to make sure it happens as quickly as possible,” he said, listing the names of the hostages. “Bibi, listen, you’re right, the victory is in our hands, let the nation of Israel win and bring the hostages home.”

Amos Malka, former head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate, protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Caesarea on March 30, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

In Caesarea, a local protester named Hannah Zissel told The Times of Israel that the rallies are designed to “increase the pressure on him [Netanyahu] so he goes to a new election.”

Amos Malka, a former head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence Directorate, kicked off the speaker’s portion of the rally with an address in which he accused Netanyahu of “abandoning the hostages” that Hamas is holding in Gaza.

“If the families knew how small the gap is, which Netanyahu is refusing to close” in negotiations with Hamas, “they would explode,” said Malka. “This is more evidence of his unsuitability to serve.”

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Malka, a leader of the protest movement against Netanyahu’s government, clarified that “the failures leading up to October 7 are shared among many, across the defense and establishment community. But what happened since” — that’s on Netanyahu.

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