‘No freedom and no hope’: Separate protests Saturday to call for hostage deal, elections

Families of those held by terrorists in Gaza highlight plight ahead of Passover, the festival of freedom; rallies against government to be held in Tel Aviv and nationwide

People 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, April 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
People 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, April 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The families of hostages held in Gaza were to hold their weekly rally in Tel Aviv Saturday evening, with protests against the government also to be held nationwide, days after a bombshell report in which negotiators said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared indifferent to the plight of those held captive.

In a return of the protests to Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, the main rally for the captives was to get underway at 8:00 p.m.

Speakers include Noam Peri, on her father Chaim‘s 80th birthday; Shay Benjamin, whose father Ron is held hostage; hostage researcher Dr. Ravit Gur-Lindenberg, whose father was taken captive by Egypt during the 1973 Yom Kippur War; and Uri Ehrenfeld, who was taken captive in the Yom Kippur War.

The rally will be followed by a prayer and song event, with the participation of freed hostage Moran Stela Yanai.

“Just before the Holiday of Freedom, with 133 hostages, men and women, still being held deep in Hamas’ tunnels in Gaza, with no freedom and no hope, a support rally for the families of the hostages will be held,” organizers said, referring to the upcoming Passover holiday.

A separate demonstration calling for early elections has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv.

A protester holds a placard, as relatives of hostages held in Gaza and their supporters block traffic outside of the US Embassy Branch Office calling for the immediate release of all captives in Tel Aviv, April 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Police reportedly refused permission for the demonstration to be held at the Kaplan junction, where months of major protests were held before October 7 against the government’s contentious judicial overhaul efforts, with law enforcement apparently claiming that the larger site was unnecessary.

According to an estimate by Channel 13 news, some 45,000 people protested in Tel Aviv last Saturday night; organizers claimed 100,000 were in attendance. Five demonstrators were injured in a ramming when a driver plowed his vehicle through the protesters.

Thousands were expected to rally at numerous other locations across the country.

The rallies come after two members of Israel’s negotiating team told Channel 12 in a report aired Thursday that Netanyahu appears to be indifferent to the fate of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and has undermined efforts to reach a deal to secure their release.

The negotiators, who were identified only by the letters “A” and “D,” spoke anonymously and were said to have decided to come forward independently to expose the fact that Israel was not doing all it could to save the hostages who have been held in captivity in Gaza, under what they called “hellish” conditions, for more than six months.

File – Houses destroyed during Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught in Kibbutz Be’eri, December 20, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

“A,” his voice distorted to hide his identity described an atmosphere of “cold indifference” to the plight of the hostages from “the top,” specifically from the Prime Minister’s Office, and said that in discussion on strategy, Netanyahu was unwilling to entertain new ideas.

“I can’t say that without Netanyahu there would have been a deal, but I can say that without Netanyahu, the chances of making a deal would be better,” said “D.”

“It happens again and again, we get a mandate during the day, and then the prime minister makes phone calls at night. He says, ‘Don’t say this, don’t approve that.’ This is how he gets around the heads of the negotiation team as well as the war cabinet,” he said.

“A” added that the Israeli team has been forced to make impossible demands, such as the March demand for a list of living hostages, that they know Hamas will not agree to.

They also said that the political leadership appeared disconnected from the fate of the hostages, and that when briefing the politicians, the negotiators would often try and include pictures and stories of the hostages to make their fate real to them.

The negotiators described how after the first group of hostages was released in late November, they insisted that Netanyahu hear the evidence and meet with medical officials to get a sense of what the hostages were enduring in captivity, “particularly the young women.”

Women highlight concerns hostages in Gaza may be pregnant as a result of rape at a protest in Tel Aviv, April 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The war began when Palestinian terror group Hamas led a devastating cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people. The thousands of attackers who burst through the border with the Gaza Strip also abducted 253 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.

It is believed that 129 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 weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. However, privately Israeli and US officials have said the number of dead may be much higher.

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

Photos of Kibbutz Nir Oz hostages placed on chairs and tables in the kibbut dining hall during a pre-Passover event for the return of the community’s hostages April 11, 2024. (Liron Moldovan/Flash90)

Hamas has also been 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.

The weeks have seen an increasing convergence between the protests of the families and the mass anti-government demonstrations that were a weekly event in the months before October 7. Some of the families accuse Netanyahu of blocking a deal for political reasons.

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.

A Channel 12 poll last month found that a potential coalition led by National Unity party leader and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz would secure 69 of the Knesset’s 120 seats if elections were held today, compared to a bloc led by Netanyahu, which would win only 46 seats.

When asked who they would like to see as prime minister, more respondents said Gantz over Netanyahu, by a margin of 41% to 29%.

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