‘The moment of truth’: Nationwide protests set to demand hostage deal, new government

Rallies planned in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and other cities; protester with megaphone reading names of hostages arrested outside Netanyahu’s Caesarea residence

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza outside the Defense Ministry Headquarters in Tel Aviv, February 8, 2024.
Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza outside the Defense Ministry Headquarters in Tel Aviv, February 8, 2024.

Protests were scheduled to get underway Saturday evening throughout the country to call for an immediate deal to release hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with some of the rallies also expected to call for an end to the current government.

The rallies come as Qatari and Egyptian-mediated efforts to secure a release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas and a truce in the war have stalled, with Hamas making demands Israel has rejected, including a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners serving sentences for deadly attacks.

According to reports over the weekend, members of the war cabinet are drawing up an official response to Hamas’s proposal, after rejecting the terror group’s demands.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum urged the public to join them at the main weekly rally at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square at 7:30 p.m. under the slogan: “The moment of truth — life or death!”

“The families of the hostages call on the citizens of Israel to stand by them and convey the message together: The price of abandoning [the captives] will be a stain for generations,” the group said in a statement to the press.

Speakers at the event will include Hailey Cooper and Or Nochomowitz, 10-year-old grandchildren of Amiram Cooper, 84, who was abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz; Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan Zangauker, 24, was also kidnapped from Nir Oz; Idit Ohel, mother of Alon Ohel, 22, who was taken captive from the Supernova music festival; and Yael Adar, whose son Tamir Adar‘s body is being held in Gaza.

An hour earlier at 6:30 p.m., anti-government protesters were set to gather nearby at Tel Aviv’s HaBima Square calling for the release of all hostages, along with a demand for immediate elections.

Israeli mounted police deploy during a rally calling for the government’s resignation, early elections, and the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Palestinian Hamas terrorists, in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2024. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

“Israel’s government is responsible for the worst disaster in national history. They must resign,” the organizers said in a statement on Saturday announcing the protest. “Elections now!”

The protesters were referring to Hamas’s grisly October 7 attack on southern Israel, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 250 hostages of all ages, mostly civilians. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 people were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.

Additional protests demanding a hostage deal and elections to replace the current government were planned in Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, Rehovot, Ra’anana and other cities and towns throughout the country.

Meanwhile, police arrested a woman protesting outside Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea, according to local social media reports.

Videos posted by activists on social media showed police officers detain Yolanda Yavor as she read the names of Israelis held by terror groups in Gaza since October 7 into a megaphone.

Media reports said she was taken to the Hadera police station for questioning.

Calls for an election have grown amid intense criticism of the government for the failures that enabled the October 7 attacks as well as dissatisfaction with its handling of the war, with repeated polls showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu losing his majority in the Knesset if a vote was to be held today.

Hamas and other terror factions are holding 132 of the 253 hostages taken on October 7, following a weeklong November truce deal that saw the release of 105 civilians, mostly women and children.

The IDF has said 29 of the 132 are dead, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

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 Gaza Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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