Car rams protesters, injuring 5, as large crowds in Tel Aviv demand hostage deal

Tens of thousands also rally against government, call for early elections at nationwide protests marking six months since October 7; police retract claim officer was punched

Marking six months since the Hamas terror group’s October 7 onslaught, demonstrators turned out Saturday night for weekly rallies across Israel to protest against the government, demand elections and an immediate hostage deal.

Tel Aviv’s massive anti-government rally, which was attended by tens of thousands of protesters, saw some demonstrators skirmish with police, with at least five arrests.

There was also a car-ramming that injured five demonstrators, which drew broad condemnations and concerns over deepening societal tensions as the war launched in response to the Hamas attack grinds on.

The higher turnout in Tel Aviv this week prompted organizers to hold the protest at Democracy Square, the intersection of Begin and Kaplan Streets, which last year became iconic for its role as the backdrop to the anti-judicial overhaul protests each Saturday night prior to October 7.

According to an estimate by Channel 13 news, some 45,000 people protested in Tel Aviv on Saturday night; organizers claimed 100,000 were in attendance. Thousands more joined the call for early elections in Jerusalem, Haifa and some dozens of other cities and towns across the country, including Caesarea, where protesters rallied outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private home.

In Tel Aviv, swaths of protesters carrying Israeli flags and signs against the current government chanted “Elad, we’re sorry,” mourning slain hostage Elad Katzir, whose body was recovered in an operation announced by the IDF earlier in the day. The army said Katzir was murdered in mid-January by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Protesters hold torches on Begin Road outside the Kirya IDF Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv, April 6, 2024. (barakdor / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

“Elad, we’re sorry we didn’t push harder, that we stayed at home, that we didn’t turn the world upside down,” the protester leading the chant cried.

Among the speakers addressing the protesters demanding early elections at Democracy Square were survivors and witnesses of the Hamas-led October 7 atrocities, in which Palestinian terrorists killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages, about 130 of whom remain in Gaza, not all of them alive.

Anat Gilor, a founding member of Kibbutz Holit in the Negev, told the crowd that on October 7, she received no assistance from the government as she hid in her safe room from terrorists who rampaged through her community, killing 15 people.

“My defense, my security, my trust was taken, everything I took for granted was taken. And nobody came to apologize,” she told the thousands of protesters in the crowd. Demanding elections, the kibbutznik swore that “for the rest of her life” she would never forgive the government.

Protests, violence

After the speeches ended in Democracy Square, masses of protesters marched to Begin Street, where skirmishes broke out between police and some demonstrators. During the clashes, The Times of Israel witnessed one protester being forcefully arrested.

One officer had her nose broken by a protester who was shoved by another officer, fell backwards and accidentally hit her face with his elbow.

Law enforcement released a statement charging the protester had punched her in the face but later retracted the claim, acknowledging the demonstrator did not act with “malicious intent,” after a video of the incident was shared widely online.

As a group of protesters proceeded northward on Begin Street, they marched toward the headquarters of the powerful Histadrut labor federation on Arlozorov Street instead of attempting to block Ayalon Highway, as has happened on many previous Saturday nights.

Outside the union building, demonstrators lit a bonfire and chanted “Strike now!” demanding that chairman Arnon Bar-David declare a large-scale strike to pressure the government into agreeing to more concessions than it is currently willing to make in a deal for the release of the hostages. The union chief declared a daylong strike last year in opposition to the government’s judicial overhaul efforts, a move joined by airport workers at Ben Gurion Airport and numerous other labor organizations.

Protesters call for a general strike outside of the Histadrut workers union headquarters in Tel Aviv, April 6, 2024. (Iddo Schejter/The Times of Israel)

At around 10 p.m., a driver briefly got out of his car to curse the protesters before being waved on by police. He then suddenly tore through the crowd with his car, hitting five people, including a 50-year-old woman who was moderately injured and taken to Ichilov Hospital.

The four others sustained minor injuries.

According to police, law enforcement managed to stop and arrest the driver soon after he accelerated his vehicle into the crowd. He was later identified as a former soccer player and coach.

The incident was denounced by numerous Israeli leaders, who warned against a return to the political and societal tensions that roiled the country before the October 7 atrocities.

In a statement calling the incident “most grave,” President Isaac Herzog warned that “violence is a red line that must never be crossed” and called for those acting violently to be brought to justice.

“We cannot return to October 6,” he said. “We must do everything to maintain the unity of Israel. Only together will we defeat our enemies.”

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz denounced the “horrific” incident and said “we all must speak out with a clear voice against all violence.” He also slammed “comparisons of the protesters to our enemies and accusing them of wanting to murder the prime minister.”

“All public leaders should act sensitively toward all parts of society, particularly in these difficult days,” added Gantz, while similarly warning against a return “to the days before October 7.”

The scene where a driver ran over protesters during a demonstration calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government, Tel Aviv, April 6, 2024. (Courtesy of Itai Raziel)

MK Chili Tropper of Gantz’s National Unity party called for the incident to be widely denounced, specifically saying Netanyahu “and the entire leadership” should do so, adding, “Anyone who is quiet in the face of incitement cannot say their hands are clean.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid suggested Netanyahu was responsible, charging the ramming was “the direct result of the rising incitement from the government.”

“They will not be deter us and or stop us from protesting until the hostages return and this terrible government falls,” Lapid said.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi of Netanyahu’s Likud party said Israel’s civil discourse has deteriorated, which he blamed on “leftist leaders, inside and outside the coalition.”

“Don’t run over protesters. Period. Don’t attack police officers, period. Don’t throw burning torches at the prime minister’s house. Period,” wrote Karhi on X in reference to protests in Jerusalem which have turned rowdy.

“Even if the reality of allowing disturbances and blocking the roads is intolerable, one must exercise restraint and be very careful,” he continued. “This deterioration to [the situation of] October 6, allowed by leftist leaders, inside and outside the coalition, does not help anyone and tears us apart in the middle of a war.”

The scene where a driver ran over protesters during a demonstration calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government in Tel Aviv, April 6, 2024. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

The protest in Tel Aviv continued until around midnight, when it was dispersed. Police arrested four protesters on Arlozorov Street. One protester, an elderly man, was knocked down by a police horse.

In Haifa, Carmit Palty Katzir, the sister of slain hostage Elad Katzir, gave a speech in which she blamed the government for the death of her brother. The People’s Protest, a Haifa group behind the march, published her statement on Facebook just ahead of the demonstration.

“The prime minister, members of the war cabinet, and members of the coalition, look at yourselves in the mirror, and ask yourselves whether it was not your hand that spilled that blood. You still have 133 hostages to redeem — worlds to save,” she wrote.

At the hostages’ families protest in Jerusalem, which numbered around 2,000 people, organizer Tom Barkai quoted Palty-Katzir in her opening speech outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.

“We have seen that our hostages will come back to us through agreements and not through combat,” she said.

After Barkai, reservist and Labor party activist Yaya Fink spoke to the crowd, requesting forgiveness from the family members of hostages still held by Hamas for “returning home after 142 days of reserve duty without managing to return your loved ones home.”

He then led the crowd in singing “Ein Li Eretz Aheret — I Have No Other Country,” as demonstrators waved their phone flashlights to the melody.

Demonstrators call for hostage deal outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem on April 6, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

The order of the two protests held in Jerusalem was flipped this week, with hundreds of protesters starting at the hostages’ families rally before marching to the President’s Residence to hear from explicitly anti-government activists and speakers. The two rallies were relatively muted, and the crowd outside the President’s Residence dispersed almost immediately after speeches ended.

Outside the President’s Residence, attorney Nitzan Caspi Shilony called for early elections and derided the government’s use of the term “unity,” which she accused politicians of using as a tool to badmouth the protests against the government.

“Unity is not a magic word that you just say and it happens, and it is not a tool to silence criticism,” she said.

In Caesarea, protesters demanding elections and Netanyahu’s resignation flanked police barricades while demonstrating a few hundred meters from the his private residence. At least one person was detained.

Separately, some 300 people attended a rally at Sha’ar Hanegev Junction near Sderot. Unlike most other rallies on Saturday, organizers of the protest in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council described their agenda as nonpartisan.

The rally “commemorates six months since the war broke out” and the fact that some 130 people are “held hostage in Gaza,” organizers wrote.

On Sunday, April 7, many demonstrators were expected to gather once again in Jerusalem for a protest in front of the Knesset building under the slogan: “National victory = the return of the hostages.” Ahead of the event, organizers were arranging rides to Jerusalem from across the country.

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