Official to TV news: Israel went as far as it can for deal

‘All hangs by a thread,’ David Grossman tells thousands at rally for election, hostage deal

Former Shin Bet chief Diskin calls Netanyahu worst PM in Israeli history; thousands mark 20th birthday of hostage Naama Levy; 3 arrested amid violent clashes with cops in Tel Aviv

Large crowds outside the Begin Gate of the Defense Ministry HQ in Tel Aviv rally to demand the return of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, June 22, 2024 (Anat Azaria / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)
Large crowds outside the Begin Gate of the Defense Ministry HQ in Tel Aviv rally to demand the return of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, June 22, 2024 (Anat Azaria / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Tens of thousands of Israelis in dozens of locales participated in anti-government protests on Saturday night, demanding new elections and the return of hostages held in Gaza.

Protesters have been taking to the streets every Saturday night for months against the government’s handling of the war, which began on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists invaded southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 251 hostages.

On Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street, David Grossman, one of Israel’s best-known authors and the 2018 winner of the Israel Prize for Literature, called on Israelis to fill the streets with demonstrations and to fight for their country, in a poem he read to protesters.

“There’s someone and something to fight for. For such a gift, from life, we will nevermore receive… Now’s the time to rise, to live. To be a people or not to be. To be people or not to be… All hangs by a thread,” he read.

Another speaker at Kaplan Street was former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, who railed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling him “the worst and most failed prime minister in the history of the state.”

Diskin, who led the Shin Bet intelligence agency from 2005 until 2011, called for elections at the earliest possible opportunity.

“For many weeks, I rejected requests to join the protests. Something deep inside me told me that it wasn’t time yet, that maybe it wasn’t right to change governments during a war, and that unity was the most important thing,” Diskin said.

“But I find myself amazed, every day, by the government’s uselessness, the failed management of the war, the lie of ‘total victory,’ the total evasion of responsibility, the destruction of our strategic relations with the United States, and perhaps most of all, missing every opportunity to bring back our kidnapped brothers and sisters, who continue to languish in Hamas captivity in Gaza,” he continued.

Author David Grossman speaks during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the current government outside the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, June 22, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A protest was also held on King George Street, outside Beit Jabotinsky, home to the ruling Likud party’s headquarters. Some protesters carried signs calling for early elections, and others held banners calling for an end to the fighting in Gaza.

After the main rally there ended, some protesters stayed and blocked the road, burning tires. Mounted police officers moved in to disperse the crowd, clearing the road and arresting three demonstrators.

In video footage, police could be seen riding into the crowds, shoving protesters aside with their horses. Several people appeared to be pushed around by police while other protesters stepped in to try to stop police from hurting those being pushed.

One of those pushed by police was a reporter for Channel 12 news. Police later apologized for that incident.

Among the protesters was Labor lawmaker Gilad Kariv, who shouted to mounted police to stay off the sidewalks, and warned that their deployment was illegal.

Police said some protesters were violent toward cops.

A protester is shoved aside by police at a demonstration outside the Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, June 22, 2024. (Gil Levin / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

‘Largest’ Jerusalem protest

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, thousands protested outside Netanyahu’s residence on Azza Street in what organizers called the largest Saturday night protest there since October 7, though no official number of attendees was provided.

The relatively large protest came at the heels of a full week of anti-government demonstrations in the capital.

Protesters led by family members of Hamas captives marched down King George Street, chanting for an immediate deal, early elections and accusing Netanyahu’s government of abandoning Israel’s embattled northern communities, some 60,000 of whose residents have been displaced for over eight months due to near-daily Hezbollah fire.

“Who will watch over the evacuees?” protesters chanted while holding signs with the names of different northern Israeli villages, each on a backdrop of flames.

When marchers arrived at their destination outside Netanyahu’s residence, they partook in a joint rally organized by the local branch of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum and the city’s anti-government movement, Safeguarding our Shared Home.

Demonstrators protest calling for the for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, in Jerusalem on June 22, 2024. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Ofer Havakuk, a reservist and doctor at Ichilov Hospital, opened his speech with the hospitalization of volunteer doctor Tal Weissbach, who was struck in the face last week by a water cannon blast, putting her eyesight at risk.

“We don’t need to ask if the police are guilty, we need to ask who sent them,” said Havakuk, alluding to far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who oversees the force.

In calling for a hostage deal, Dr. Daphna Shefet told the crowd that contrary to the government’s slogan “there is no ‘absolute victory,’ only painful concessions, but essential and worthwhile ones.” Such worthwhile concessions, she added, will “not happen with this government.”

A birthday in captivity

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum also held rallies across the country, including addresses by hostages whom Hamas released from captivity in November.

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. Hamas has said repeatedly that it will only release them within a framework that permanently ends the war, a demand Israel rejects.

In one of the demonstrations, thousands rallied in Tel Aviv to mark the 20th birthday of hostage Naama Levy.

Releasing balloons and chanting to the beat of drums, protesters shared bite-sized cupcakes decorated with birthday candles, while demanding the release of all hostages.

“She needs to be here with her family, with her friends,” said Yoni Levy, 52, Naama’s father, wearing a shirt emblazoned with his daughter’s image.

“I’m imagining exactly what you would be doing today,” he said, addressing his daughter. “We would prepare a table full of candy and balloons and gifts for you like we do every year. How happy this day could have been.

“Instead, you’ve been there, in the dark, for 260 days. This year, candy is tasteless and there’s no desire for gifts,” he added.

After she was kidnapped from the Nahal Oz military base, a Hamas video appeared on Telegram, showing Levy being pulled by her hair from the back of a black pickup truck and then pushed into the back seat. In the video, her hands were tied, her feet were bare, and the bottom of her pants was covered in blood and smeared with dirt.

On Thursday, Naama’s elder brother Amit shared memories of his sister with Reuters, pointing to her smiling face in a magazine picture with the headline: “Bring Her Home.”

Israelis protest calling for the release of Israelis held hostage in the Gaza Strip and marking the 20th birthday of Naama Levy in captivity, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, June 22, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“I really can’t wait to see this smile when she comes back soon,” he said.

Another speaker was Ilana Gritzewsky, 30, who was abducted from her home in Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, along with her partner, Matan Zangauker, who remains in captivity.

“For 55 days I was held by human monsters,” she told protesters in Tel Aviv. “Since I was freed, my body is here, but my soul is still there.”

Gritzewsky said that while in captivity, she saw footage of protests in Israel, and called it “the first time I felt I was not forgotten, that people were fighting for us.” She told protesters that upon her return, “not one minister bothered to call me to ask how I was.”

Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan is captive in Gaza, addressed Netanyahu directly: “I will see to it personally that you are tried for every person murdered on October 7 and for every hostage who entered [Gaza] alive and came back dead.”

The demonstrations came after a “week of disruption,” with protesters rallying, blocking highways and gathering in front of the Knesset, calling for elections.

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, June 22, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israeli pessimism on hostage deal

As Saturday evening’s rallies were held, an unnamed senior Israeli diplomatic source was quoted by Channel 12 news as saying that Israel had gone as far as it could with its proposal for a hostage release-ceasefire deal, and that “the ball is in Hamas’s court.”

“If Hamas does its part, Israel will stop the war at the time set out in the agreement, alongside the release of all the hostages,” the source said.

Presenting what the report described as a pessimistic overview, the source said that there was no way for Israel to move further: “Israel went as far as there is to go, [US President Joe] Biden adopted the framework, and the UN Security Council voted in favor of a framework under which Israel ends the war.”

“There’s nothing more to discuss” on the Israeli side, the source added.

But unfortunately, the source continued, “the mediators have no leverage over [Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya] Sinwar in the tunnel — or at least not enough. He is the one who decides.”

If Israel agrees to Hamas’s demand to commit to end the war in advance, before any hostages are freed, the terror group “will play tricks and not release them all.”

“We will not give up on the leverage afforded by military pressure,” said the source. “That’s all we have left.”

Hamas responded to the Israeli offer 10 days ago with various amendments, some of which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as not workable.

Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that the terms of the Israeli proposal, which has not been published in full, enable the achievement of Israel’s declared goals of destroying Hamas’s military and civil governance capabilities and bringing home all the hostages, and that the war will not end until they are achieved.

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