Protesters call ‘shut down’ on Sunday, demanding elections on 9-month war milestone

Major companies say workers may partake in rallies; anti-government activists plan to block highways, call on Histadrut leader to strike in solidarity

Anti-government protests demand immediate elections at the Amiad Junction in northern Israel, July 6, 2024. (Shay Zeltzer/Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)
Anti-government protests demand immediate elections at the Amiad Junction in northern Israel, July 6, 2024. (Shay Zeltzer/Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Anti-government groups announced a “day of disruption” on Sunday to demand new elections as Israel enters its tenth month since October 7, with 116 people kidnapped in the shock Hamas attack still languishing in captivity in Gaza.

Sunday’s demonstrations will form part of the “week of resistance” protest groups kicked off at their weekly protests on Saturday evening. The protesters said they would block major highways on Sunday, including routes 2, 4 and 6, and hold rallies across the country, culminating in a mass demonstration outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The Kirya demonstration will follow a rally outside the Histadrut’s Tel Aviv offices to call on Israel’s largest labor federation to strike in solidarity with the protest groups’ demand for the government to step down. A demonstration is also planned for Sunday morning outside the Kiryat Ono home of Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David, who has previously indicated his support for the anti-government protests.

Some of Israel’s leading companies, mainly from the tech and finance sectors, said they would let their workers take time off to join in the protests, which anti-government groups announced in late June.

The protests will mark exactly nine months since Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 251 hostages, mostly civilians, amid many acts of brutality and sexual assault.

Protest groups had rallied weekly since early 2023, when the government introduced its plan to weaken the judiciary. The demonstrations were paused for a few weeks after October 7 before returning full force to call for new elections, claiming the government has a moral imperative to regain the public’s trust after failing to avert the largest massacre in the country’s history.

Anti-government protesters block Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv as police use water cannons against them on July 6, 2024. (Lior Segev/Israeli Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

In recent months, the central anti-government protest in Tel Aviv has taken place in conjunction with the Hostages and Missing Families Forum rally calling for the release of their loved ones. Amid the war, protest groups have also doubled down on their opposition to legislation exempting yeshiva students from military service, which critics describe as a power grab by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

“Nine months have passed since the October 7 disaster, and we still have the same government on whose shift the inconceivable failure happened,” Eran Schwartz, the executive director of the “Free in our Land” coalition of protest groups, said in a statement, claiming ministers were abandoning the hostages, engaging in discrimination and “hanging on to their chairs at any price.”

“On Sunday we will ask the public to shut down the country, because this reality must change,” he added. “We won’t stop until a date is set for elections, and the country is back on track toward recuperation, unity and hope.”

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — though the IDF has confirmed the deaths of 42 of them — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Seven hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

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

Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

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