Reporter's notebook

Small, dedicated group braves rain in Tel Aviv for all-night ‘100 days of hell’ rally

Art displays attract protesters staying up round the clock to commemorate hostages who remain in Hamas captivity; speakers question government priorities regarding captives

People attend 24-hour rally for hostages marking 100 days since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, at 'Hostages Square' in Tel Aviv, early on January 14, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
People attend 24-hour rally for hostages marking 100 days since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, at 'Hostages Square' in Tel Aviv, early on January 14, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

As strong winds picked up and a drizzle began in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, only a small core of a few hundred determined people remained through the night as part of the 24-hour rally marking 100 days since 240 hostages were kidnapped by Hamas on October 7, as the terror group rampaged through border communities and killed 1,200 people amid acts of great brutality.

According to the organizers, the rally boasted around 120,000 demonstrators at its peak, but by midnight, the crowds had largely dispersed, leaving several hundred people camped out in tents in the square, wandering through drenched art exhibitions or hunkering down in front of the stage under an umbrella.

As the main rally began to clear out at 10 p.m., a smaller group of protesters with megaphones, a drum circle and chants reminiscent of the anti-overhaul protests from earlier this year began to arrive.

“This is not OK, not OK!” shouted one woman in opposition to the protesters who were interrupting a performance by musician Ehud Banai. The smaller group was unfazed as they plowed through the crowd, chanting and carrying signs that read “Deal on the table — now!”

This group of protesters had begun the night as part of a demonstration calling for new elections held at Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, after which several dozen moved went and blocked the Ayalon Highway. They were quickly dispersed with force by the police, then continued on to Hostages Square.

Tomer Ganelevin, a participant in the rogue protest who grew up in Kibbutz Nirim and knows many of the people currently held captive by Hamas, said that hostage families were at the helm of both demonstrations and insisted that the two — the Habima one and the main Hostages Square one — shared a common struggle.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which put together the main rally, firmly denied any connection to the group of protesters.

A smaller group of protesters marches through the larger crowd at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on January 13, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

“We’re a group of citizens with pained hearts, and we are trying to express the pain in our hearts — it’s not different from the pain of the Hostages Forum, but maybe a bit looser with its limits,” Ganelevin said.

The protesters dispersed soon after successfully making their way through the crowd and ceased chanting when a family member of a hostage got up to speak.

Past midnight, the event on the main stage became much more casual as emcees started conducting a series of light interviews with young adults who had family members taken hostage by Hamas, interspersed with musical performances by artists from Gaza envelope communities.

The first person to be interviewed, Anat Shoshani, is the granddaughter of released hostage Adina Moshe and of Said Moshe, who was murdered by Hamas on October 7 in Nir Oz. She questioned whether the “prime minister is really doing all that he can to return people home.”

Ofek, a demonstrator from Tel Aviv who arrived at the square a bit before midnight, said he planned to stay at the rally all night despite the heavy rain. He echoed the worry of Shoshani, along with other speakers, that both the government and the broader public are losing focus on the hostages’ return.

“The issue of the hostages is declining [in publicity], fewer people are talking about them. Before on the big advertising boards, you would see posters demanding their return. Now it’s less,” he said. He believes the current government isn’t prioritizing the return of the hostages, and that mass demonstrations like tonight’s are important to put pressure on Israel’s leadership.

Behind the stage outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art was a collection of art exhibitions related to the hostages’ plight, though many displays soon became soaked in the rain, which continued intermittently throughout the night.

One artist, Dana Sapir, wearing black and trapped in a cage, attracted attention from passersby and even brought one woman to tears as she attempted to claw her way out. Written on both her palms in black marker is the title of her piece: “Over my dead body.” She remained in the tiny cage for hours, completely exposed to the pouring rain.

An art installation in Hostages Square depicts the plight of those held in Hamas captivity at 24-hour rally in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Next to Sapir was a mock Hamas tunnel erected on Saturday to direct attention to the dire conditions of the hostages. Attendees formed a line for the chance to walk through the claustrophobic, dimly lit passage complete with the sound of distant gunshots played through speakers on the wall. Etched on the walls of the tunnel are the names of the hostages, messages from families to their captured loved ones and tally marks counting the days since their kidnapping.

As the late night became early morning, many artists had dismantled their exhibits, but some remaining attendees wanted another trip through the tunnel. It still stood in the square, albeit now without echoing gunshot noises or lighting on the inside of the walls.

At the end of the tunnel, a gray-haired Hasidic man stood playing an acoustic guitar as people passed by. After singing a few songs, he went to a nearby tent to pack up. He said he stood at the end of the tunnel to symbolize hope for the hostages’ swift return.

A Hasidic man sings and plays guitar at the end of a mock Hamas tunnel set up in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square on January 14, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

It is believed that 132 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. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 25 of those still held by Hamas, citing \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.

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