'Day of disruption' on Monday as Knesset returns from recess

Ambassadors, musicians headline rally highlighting plight of international hostages

Hillary Clinton sends video message; US, UK, German and Austrian envoys address crowd, along with Rachel Polin-Goldberg; Eden Golan, Netta Barzilai, Noga Erez perform

Israeli protesters block a highway during a demonstration calling on the government to reach a deal with Hamas to bring home hostages in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 6, 2024 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli protesters block a highway during a demonstration calling on the government to reach a deal with Hamas to bring home hostages in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 6, 2024 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The families of hostages held in Gaza rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, with a high-profile lineup of international speakers and musicians to demand the release of the 125 hostages still held by Hamas since October 7, who hold citizenship from 24 countries.

Video messages from former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Dr. Phil were screened for the crowd at the event.

There were also speeches by US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew, UK Ambassador to Israel Simon Walters, German Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert and Austrian Ambassador to Israel Nikolaus Lutterotti.

The rally featured musical performances by Eurovision 2024 Israeli representative Eden Golan, as well as Montana Tucker, Noga Erez, Netta Barzilai and Lola Marsh.

Family members of hostages tapped to speak included Rachel Goldberg-Polin, the mother of American-Israeli Hersh Goldberg-Polin; Yael Alexander, the mother of American-Israeli Edan Alexander; Itzik Horn, the father of Argentinian-Israeli brothers Eitan and Yair Horn; Ayala Yahalomi, the sister of French-Israeli Ohad Yahalomi; Evgenia Kozlov, the mother of Russian-Israeli Andrey Kozlov.

Israeli Eurovision contestant Eden Golan rehearsing her song “Hurricane” on the eve of the final of the 68th Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) 2024 on May 10, 2024, at the Malmo Arena, Sweden. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

The event was compered by former government spokesperson Eylon Levy and began at 8 p.m. in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square.

The rally comes as hopes fade for a hostage and truce deal between Israel and Hamas, and the day after the military announced that soldiers recovered the bodies of three hostages from the Gaza Strip, as intensive fighting raged there between Israeli forces and the terror group.

The three, who were murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7 and their bodies abducted to Gaza, were named as Itzhak Gelerenter, Amit Buskila and Shani Louk.

From left to right: Itzhak Gelerenter, Amit Buskila and Shani Louk. (Courtesy)

On Thursday it was announced that the Israel Defense Forces and the Foreign Ministry have notified the families of Thai nationals Sonthaya Oakkharasr and Sudthisak Rinthalak that they were killed during the terror onslaught on October 7, and their bodies taken to Gaza.

Earlier this week, organizers estimated 100,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square to mark Israel’s 76th Independence Day alongside family members of the hostages.

Anti-government protests

Amid an increasing convergence between the protests of the hostages’ families and the mass anti-government demonstrations that were a weekly event in the months before October 7, with some of the families accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of blocking a deal for political reasons, a separate demonstration calling for early elections was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv.

Organizers called on participants to join with the hostages’ families to rally at the nearby entrance to the Defense Ministry at the conclusion of the anti-government protest.

Some families of hostages, frustrated that after seven months of war their loved ones are still in captivity, have turned against the government, speaking out publicly against the country’s leaders.

Relatives of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza protest march for their release near the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 9, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thousands were expected to call for elections in rallies at other locations across the country, organizers said.

Protest organizers also called for a “day of disruption” on Monday when the Knesset returns after its spring recess.

Opposition parties had pushed for lawmakers to cancel the vacation, arguing that it was wrong to halt legislative activities during wartime and while hostages were held in Gaza.

Events planned for Monday include a slow-moving convoy on the road to Jerusalem and a rally outside the Knesset at 5 p.m.

Amid a growing storm over Netanyahu’s bid to revive a 2022 bill that would slowly increase the rate of ultra-Orthodox male enlistment to the military, despite it being legally problematic and not meeting Israel’s current military needs, the Brothers in Arms protest group of reservists was also set to hold activities on Monday.

The government’s popularity has plummeted since the beginning of the war, leading to growing calls for elections. It has faced blame over its failure to prevent the October 7 massacre, while some have charged it has fumbled when dealing with key matters relating to the conflict.

Demonstrators gather during a rally by the families of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since October 7, outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv on May 16, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

In a televised address Wednesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Netanyahu that he must take “tough decisions” to advance non-Hamas governance of Gaza, whatever the personal or political cost, because the gains of the war are being eroded and Israel’s long-term security is at stake.

“In the absence of such an alternative, only two negative options remain: Hamas’s rule in Gaza or Israeli military rule in Gaza,” Gallant warned. “The meaning of indecision is choosing one of the negative options. It would erode our military achievements, reduce the pressure on Hamas, and sabotage the chances of achieving a framework for the release of hostages,” he said.

Demonstrators gather during a rally by the relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since October 7, outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv on May 11, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Polls consistently show that were elections to be held, anti-Netanyahu parties would win a clear majority, with war cabinet minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity, the largest party. A Channel 12 survey earlier this month showed that 58 percent of voters asked think Netanyahu should resign.

The war began when Palestinian terror group Hamas led a devastating cross-border attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people. The thousands of attackers who burst through the border with the Gaza Strip also abducted 252 people who were taken as hostages into the Palestinian enclave.

Israel responded with a military offensive to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, destroy the terror group and free the hostages.

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