Thousands of Israelis took to the streets this week to protest their government’s handling of the ongoing conflict in Gaza, as well as demanding early elections to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Demonstrations erupted in cities like Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, with Arab and Jewish activists marching together to call for peace and an end to fighting.
Tel Aviv Rally Draws Anti-War and Pro-War Activists, Turns Chaotic
On Thursday evening, an estimated 15,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square for a rally against Israel’s operations in Gaza. The protest brought together left-wing Israelis and Arab citizens, who chanted “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” and held signs calling on the government to “negotiate not escalate.”
However, pro-war activists also showed up to counter-protest. Clashes erupted as the two sides confronted each other, with protestors accusing counter-protestors of “supporting genocide” while opponents called out chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” At one point, police had to form cordons to keep the groups separated. Eight people were reportedly arrested.
“Israelis have a right to protest for peace when rockets are falling,” said Michal, a protestor and Tel Aviv resident. “But seeing the hate from extremists on both sides only convinces me that this cycle of violence serves no one.”
Arab-Jewish Rally Calls for Ceasefire, Nonviolence in Haifa
Simultaneously on Thursday, hundreds gathered in the northern port city of Haifa for an Arab-Jewish peace march. Participants held signs saying “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” and “Both people deserve freedom and dignity.”
At one point, protestors laid down on the street holding false body bags painted red, representing Palestinian victims. “As an Israeli Jew, my heart breaks seeing the death and injustice on Gaza,” said Rami, one marcher. “Violence isn’t working. Let’s try compassion.”
Police had initially ruled the rally illegal and forced it to move to a more remote area of Haifa. However, organizers successfully contested this restriction, with the court upholding the “the constitutional right in Israel to protest.” Ultimately police allowed the downtown rally.
“Having rights respected by authorities is critical,” said Leila, an Arab protestor. “How else can we foster understanding between communities?”
Protestors Nationwide Demand Government Step Down, Call Early Elections
Beyond demanding an end to violence in Gaza, rallies across Israel this week have expressed outrage at the Netanyahu government’s handling of the escalating war.
On Saturday night in Jerusalem, an estimated 2,000 people marched to Netanyahu’s residence chanting slogans like “Bibi go home” and calling on him to resign. Some carried empty coffins with signs saying “The next victims” to symbolize future deaths if fighting persists.
“I blame Bibi and his government for this failed Gaza strategy that solves nothing long term,” said David, a Jewish protestor in Jerusalem. “It’s time they pay politically.”
Smaller rallies of a hundred to a thousand protestors echoed similar anti-government and pro-election sentiments in cities like Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beer Sheva this week.
“The government has lost our faith over Gaza,” said Sarah, a marcher at a Tel Aviv rally. “Let the people decide new leadership through elections.”
|Poll: Should Elections be Held?
Maariv Online Poll Jan 18, 2024 (MoE 3.7% Margin of Error)
With Netanyahu currently ruling a caretaker government as coalition talks stall, pressure is mounting for a vote. However, the Prime Minister has resisted demands, hoping to restart negotiations.
Protestors Call for Resolution on Hostage Issue Before Ceasefire
Many protestors this week also called for urgent government action to free two Israeli citizens being held captive by Hamas in Gaza. Demonstrators claim no ceasefire or negotiations should occur without the hostages’ release.
The two civilians were captured by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid last October. Little information has emerged since about their condition or status.
At Saturday’s Jerusalem rally, protestors chanted “Bring back our sons!” in reference to the captives. Meanwhile the hostages’ families have pleaded on TV for intervention.
“It’s unbearable thinking my brother suffers every day in Hamas custody,” said Iris, sister of one hostage. “Our leaders must prioritize his freedom in talks before allowing these terrorists any concessions.”
However, experts warn the hostages risk being caught in the middle of tense political debates. “The prisoners are pawns to both sides,” said Daniel, an analyst at the Israel Policy Forum. “It hurts their chances for release.”
Their fate remains unclear as long as fighting goes on.
What’s Next? Protest Movements Expected to Keep Building Pressure
This week’s historic rallies represented an unusual show of opposition in Israel to military actions and the political status quo. However, public dissent is expected to keep rising as the crisis continues.
On social media, protest organizers are already announcing plans for more anti-war and anti-government marches in coming days. With over 70% in recent polls favoring elections and criticism around the Gaza stalemate mounting, pressure is likely to intensify on Netanyahu.
Some experts predict mass rallies could return to scale not seen since the 2011 “Cottage Cheese Protests” as frustration grows. How the government responds to escalating public outrage could determine the outcome.
“Seeing Arabs and Jews unite in the streets gives me hope,” said Sami, an Arab activist in Haifa. “Our voices are only getting louder until action is taken.”
|Opinion Polls: Who is Best Suited to Lead Israel?
|Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud): 26%
|Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid): 21%
|Naftali Bennett (Yamina): 12%
|Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope): 11%
|Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism): 9%
Dialog Institute Telephone Survey Jan 16, 2024 (MoE 4.3% Margin of Error)
This table shows recent polling on preferred candidates for Prime Minister if elections were held today. It demonstrates falling support for Netanyahu and his party Likud while backing rises for opposition figures like Yair Lapid. With no candidate holding a clear majority lead, elections could bring major leadership changes.
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