‘We’re held captive by Netanyahu and Sinwar’: Thousands protest for hostage deal

Hostage’s mother enters cage suspended over road at Tel Aviv rally, demands government ‘stop dragging feet,’ bring her son home; youth group leads Jerusalem march to PM’s residence

Einav Zangauker, mother of hostage Matan Zangauker, speaks from a cage suspended over Tel Aviv's Begin Road, as thousands rally demanding a hostage deal in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, July 7, 2024. (Ahikam Seri/Sharon Aronowicz/AFPTV/AFP)

Thousands of anti-government protesters marched to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on Sunday night, at the end of a nationwide day of demonstrations marking nine months since October 7, and calling for both immediate elections and a deal to facilitate the release of the 120 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza.

Thousands more gathered in Tel Aviv, where Einav Zangauker — whose son Matan is captive in Gaza — was suspended in a cage hanging from a bridge over Begin Road in an act of protest against the government.

The acts of protest in two of Israel’s most populous cities were preceded by a day of action across the country, during which protesters blocked highways and held rallies outside the homes of government ministers, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana.

The demonstrations started at 6:29 a.m., the same time that Hamas fired the first rockets at Israel on October 7, launching a day of unprecedented death and destruction, and nine months of war.

Five people were arrested in north Tel Aviv early Sunday afternoon for disturbing the peace by staging an unauthorized demonstration at the Kfar Hayarok interchange. Twelve others received tickets for causing public disturbances and using their vehicles to block traffic. Minor confrontations also broke out between demonstrators and police at the Rokach/Namir interchange in north Tel Aviv.

By the evening, the dispersed protests in Tel Aviv had merged into one, as crowds arrived to hear Zangauker speak from her suspended position five meters up in the air.

Signs plastered on the metal cage advocated for an immediate hostage deal, proclaiming: “Netanyahu, it is in your hands,” and “The government abandoned [them], the people will bring them back.”

Demonstrators protest for the release of hostages in the Gaza Strip, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2024. Einav Zangauker, the mother of hostage Matan Zangauker, is standing in the cage at left. The slogan on the cage reads, “Netanyahu, it’s in your hands.” (Itai Ron/ Flash90

Addressing the crowd, Zangauker said she pulled the dramatic stunt, “because we are all held captive by Netanyahu and [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar.”

“There is a deal on the table that can save lives, and all of us. I want Matan at home, I want all the hostages at home now,” she continued. “I want to tell Netanyahu: The keys to this cage and all the other cages are in your hands. For nine months, you have abandoned the hostages. Netanyahu — stop dragging your feet. We want them at home and it’s up to you to bring them home.”

“I want Matan home,” she repeated. “I want to hear my son call me ‘Mom.'”

Einav Zangauker, the mother of hostage Matan Zangauker, sits in a cage during a demonstration calling for a hostage release deal, outside the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 7, 2024. The placard reads, ‘A deal will save the nation.’ (Dana Reany / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Barriers blocking Jerusalem protesters

In Jerusalem, the march to Netanyahu’s residence was led by the HaShomer HaTzair youth movement, who set out chanting, “We won’t agree to the abandonment of the hostages!”

The procession began at Sacher Park and headed in both directions along Ben Zvi Boulevard, a major road in the city that runs alongside the park.

Police flanked the protesters and walked ahead of the crowd, as mounted officers and a water cannon were on standby further down the road.

By the time the protest reached Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, it had thinned out, after splitting into multiple directions, although hundreds pushed on in an attempt to get as close to Netanyahu’s residence as possible.

Police had erected barriers on Azza Street, however, to prevent them from passing beyond a certain point.

Police man barricades blocking anti-government protesters from reaching Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on July 7, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Hillel Levi-Faur, one of the protest organizers, delivered an impromptu speech directed at the police.

“You know us, we are non-violent protesters,” he said. “All these barricades and unnecessary blockades are a shame. Allow us to demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence.”

Behind him, protesters shouted: “Bibi is abandoning the hostages!” before reading off the names of the remaining Hamas captives in Gaza.

The rally followed clashes with the police earlier in the evening, which had resulted in one protester requiring medical attention after they were said to have been violently shoved by the police.

The clash in question erupted as police cleared protesters from the light rail tracks. Footage on social media showed police officers pushing protesters and dragging one woman on the ground. According to the person who posted the video, the police arrested an activist from “Meshanim Kivun” (lit. “changing direction”), a climate-oriented protest group.

Anti-government demonstrators in Jerusalem march to Netanyahu’s official residence as part of nationwide day of protests on July 7, 2024. (Charlie Summers/ Times of Israel)

A ‘week of resistance’

Sunday’s demonstrations were part of the “week of resistance” that protest groups kicked off at the weekly demonstrations on Saturday evening.

Some of Israel’s leading companies, mainly from the tech and finance sectors, let their workers take time off to join in Sunday’s protests, which anti-government groups announced in late June. Netzach Israel, a right-wing advocacy group, said on Sunday that it would attempt to cooperate with shareholders in pursuing legal action against the companies.

Protest groups have rallied weekly since early 2023, when the government introduced a plan to weaken the judiciary. The demonstrations were paused for a few weeks after Hamas’s October 7 invasion and massacre in southern Israel, 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.

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. During 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 Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

“Israel has been abandoned for 275 days [since October 7],” read a statement from Brothers in Arms, a reservists’ protest group, ahead of Sunday’s demonstrations.

“The government of extremists refuses to take responsibility and return the mandate to the people, to retrieve our brothers and sisters who were snatched from their home at any price, and in tandem, is legislating draft dodging,” the statement continued.

“We will carry on dogged demonstrations until the abandonment government wakes up, takes responsibility, and sets a date for elections.”

One hundred and sixteen hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza; the IDF has confirmed the deaths of 42 of them.

Hamas is also believed to be holding the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in 2014, as well as two civilians, presumed to be alive, who entered of their own accord while suffering from mental illness in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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