Protesters block highways ahead of Knesset protest amid ‘week of disruption’

High school students stage walkouts, buses organized to transport demonstrators to Jerusalem for major rallies in front of parliament on Monday night

Protesters are seen demonstrating near the offices of the Histadrut labor federation as part of an anti-government "week of disruption," in this screenshot from a video posted to X, June 17, 2024. (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Protesters are seen demonstrating near the offices of the Histadrut labor federation as part of an anti-government "week of disruption," in this screenshot from a video posted to X, June 17, 2024. (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Anti-government protesters demonstrated across Israel on Monday, blocking roads for a second day in a call for early elections and a deal with the Hamas terror group to secure the release of the hostages held in Gaza.

High school students also staged walkouts in conjunction with the larger demonstrations, including one Tel Aviv-area walkout in which students proceeded to Route 5, a major highway, the Ynet news outlet reported.

Protesters also marched on the headquarters of the Histadrut labor federation, calling on its chief, Arnon Bar-David, to “get off the fence.” The labor leader has called for early elections, but so far declined to order a general strike.

A major demonstration is set to take place Monday night at 7 p.m. in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem, after which protestors plan to march to the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A number of tech companies have hired buses to bring protesters from across the country to the capital.

Monday was the second day of an advertised “week of disruption,” waged by various protest groups.

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters demonstrated in Tel Aviv until past midnight, and were cleared by force by police.

In the process, police arrested Itay Ron, a photographer for the Haaretz newspaper, drawing condemnation from protest movements. He was released about an hour after the arrest. Protesters also blocked the Ayalon highway.

Demonstrations continued on Sunday, when groups of several activists blocked several major roads and lit fires in the middle of the highways.

On Monday, demonstrators blocked three highways, all for brief periods.

Organizers of the protests said that their aim was to get a million people onto the streets over the course of the “week of disruption.”

“Our goal is clear – to return the mandate to the people immediately and go to elections before the anniversary of the failures of October 7,” said Eran Schwartz, head of the Free in our Land protest group, on Sunday.

“The government repeatedly fails to protect Israel’s security and care for its citizens,” he said. “It prioritizes political survival over the national interest, as we have seen in dozens of examples in recent months, from the shameful [military draft for Haredim] evasion law, through the failure to promote the hostage deal or [a plan for] the day after in Gaza, to the abandonment of the citizens of the north.”

Another rally will be held at the Knesset on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. A rally is also to be held in the south on Wednesday evening, with the location to be announced.

On Thursday, protests will be held outside Netanyahu’s residences in Jerusalem and Caesarea.

MK Yair Lapid attends a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, June 15, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Protests against the government, including weekly Saturday night demonstrations calling for a hostage deal, have been gaining steam in Israel over the last several months, amid broad discontent with the management of the war against Hamas in Gaza and the ongoing fighting with Hezbollah along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Adding to the opposition is controversy over a bill to lower the age at which ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students are no longer subject to military conscription, aiding an exemption process that many Israelis view as an evasion of civic duty.

At a Tel Aviv demonstration on Saturday night, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid condemned Netanyahu for supporting the bill, invoking the deaths of eight soldiers who were killed in a blast in Rafah in the Gaza Strip that morning.

The protests also come amid widening cracks in the governing coalition. Last month, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz, then a member of the war cabinet, both made dramatic speeches accusing Netanyahu of dragging his feet on crucial wartime decisions.

Gantz then left the war cabinet, as did Gadi Eisenkot, a former IDF chief of staff who was serving as a war cabinet observer.

On Monday, Netanyahu took the step of dissolving the war cabinet altogether, amid demands by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir that he be added to the body.

The far-right minister has also been threatening to withdraw from the government if Netanyahu strikes a hostage deal with Hamas that would involve a ceasefire in Gaza, and has been agitating for a major war against Hezbollah in response to attacks on the north.

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