Some demonstrators arrested at main rally in Tel Aviv

At weekly rally, hostage’s mom warns Israel will be forced to halt war even without deal

Protesters and activists for Gaza hostages convene around country, call for Netanyahu’s removal; Einav Zangauker: ‘Matan, when you return I’ll tell you the government betrayed you’

Thousands of Israeli protesters rally in Tel Aviv to demand urgent government action in order to bring home the hostages still held in Gaza, May 25, 2024. (Sharon Aronowicz/AFPTV/AFP)

Anti-government protesters gathered Saturday night at multiple locations across Israel to call for the dismissal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, early elections, and a deal for the release of hostages held by Hamas. The central rally in Tel Aviv featured some arrests of protesters.

Organizers of the main demonstration in Tel Aviv said over 80,000 people had attended, but that figure could not be confirmed. Protests were also held in other locations including Jerusalem, Haifa, Caesarea and Rehovot.

Eyal Eshel, the father of Roni Eshel, an IDF field observer who was killed on October 7, spoke at the rally in Tel Aviv, days after the families of kidnapped observers released footage of their daughters’ capture.

“The terrible videos from the capture of the soldiers in Nahal Oz emphasize the failures that were built up layer by layer,” he said. “Netanyahu, you were warned and you ignored. Only because of that, you must take responsibility and resign immediately. You are not worthy of Roni, you are not worthy of the girls who were murdered, you are not worthy of this wonderful people.”

Eshel’s claim that Netanyahu was “warned” appeared to refer to this past week’s confirmation by the military that it had warned the premier four times last year of how Hamas viewed the societal chasm prompted by the hardline government’s judicial overhaul legislation.

Mickey Rosenthal, a former Knesset member for Labor, spoke after Eshel. “I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, for the 15 years that preceded the Hamas invasion” of October 7, he said. “You pursued a policy of forgiveness and tolerance toward the threat because of an incorrect outlook that prefers repeated rounds of fighting and friction with a terrorist organization that isn’t interested in talking with us, over dialogue with the more moderate Palestinian Authority.”

Alongside the anti-government protest at Democracy Square, a rally was held at Hostages Square outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, led by the families of some of the 125 hostages still held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Mickey Rosenthal speaking at the anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2024. (Lior Segev)

Afterward, the families gave a statement to the press outside the Kirya military headquarters on Begin Street.

Einav Zangauker, the mother of hostage Matan and one of the most prominent figures in the hostage movement, said: “We need to understand once and for all, the conditions for a deal have not changed. There won’t be a deal without the war ending.

Einav Zangauker holds a sign identifying her son Matan (24), one of the hostages taken captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip during the October 7 massacre, as she stands on the roof of a car during a demonstration by hostages’ relatives and supporters in Tel Aviv on May 6, 2024. (Jack Guez / AFP)

“If the government doesn’t reach a deal now, Israel will in the end be forced to end the war without the return of hostages,” she continued.

Zangauker afterward spoke at a demonstration for the release of hostages on Begin Street that converged with the anti-government protest that ended earlier at Democracy Square.

“While the prime minister’s son is calling for a military rebellion, my son is being held hostage in Gaza,” she said, referring to Netanyahu’s son, Yair, having shared a video of an IDF reserve soldier threatening mutiny.

“Matan, when you return home I will tell you that the government betrayed you, all of you, all of us,” she added.

Protesters eventually began marching, and videos on social media showed them sitting down on Democracy Square.

Footage also showed protesters being arrested.

At one point, police were filmed twice shoving Labor MK Naama Lazimi as she tried to use her parliamentary immunity to verify who officers were arresting.

In Jerusalem, hundreds gathered in Paris Square outside Netanyahu’s official residence.

Tom Barkai, lead organizer of the Jerusalem branch of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, told the crowd that although she fears for the hostages’ future, she and others in the crowd “are continuing, without any question… to fight for their return.”

Anna Astamker, the cousin of Karina Ariev, one of the five female troops whose abduction by Hamas was caught on film and released last week by the Families Forum, called on Netanyahu to “do the right thing.”

“Mr. Prime Minister and members of the cabinet, I am appealing to you, our girls are sitting in this video, scared but so brave, so strong,” she said. “Please be brave like them, take responsibility! Do the right thing for them and for the country. And the right thing is to bring them home, now.”

Cousin of Hamas captive Karina Ariev speaks at rally in support of a hostage deal in Jerusalem’s Paris Square on May 25, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

At the Rehovot protest, Yair Golan, a retired general and former Knesset member who is now a leading candidate for the chairmanship of the Labor party, said in a speech that “for years, Netanyahu has run away from making decisions. The king of the status quo. He won’t change anything, and he won’t act to fix anything. All his resources are being used only for his survival.”

“Netanyahu’s fear of dealing with difficult decisions led to the worst series of failures in the country’s history,” Golan continued. “The failure of October 7 is the result of running away from difficult but necessary decisions. There are those who are trying to not take responsibility for the failures, but it doesn’t matter. No one will run away.”

Family members of Israelis held captive by Hamas in Gaza join anti-government protesters in Democracy Square in Tel Aviv, calling for the government to make a deal to free the captives, May 25, 2024. (Gilad Furst/Pro-Democracy Movement)

War broke out on October 7 following Hamas’s onslaught on southern Israel in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 252.

It is believed that 121 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a week-long truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 37 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Charlie Summers contributed to this report.

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