Israeli Citizens Protest in the Hundreds of Thousands Demanding Netanyahu Sign Truce and Call New Elections

ON 07/01/2024 AT 02 : 55 AM

Pressures are intensifying for the Israeli prime minister to end the genocidal war in Gaza and dissolve his government.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s political and personal downfall could ultimately end up being delivered to him not by Hamas, international calls to stop the slaughter of innocent Palestinians in Gaza, the United Nations Security Council, or judgments against he and his government by the UN International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court.

It could instead come to pass by ordinary citizens watching the disintegration of their nation from within while the prime minister continues to reject every concrete ceasefire plan which could bring Hamas-held Israeli prisoners back home.

That was the message being sent clearly and loudly this weekend by individuals who gathered in masses in at least three major locations in the country to demand a fundamental change in the strategy in Gaza and in the coalition government responsible for it.

The largest of those rallies took place this weekend in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square.

Tel Aviv protest demanding Netanyahu get the prisoners back home, on June 30, 2024.
Israeli citizens flooded "Hostages Square" in downtown Tel Aviv on June 30, 2024, demanding Benjamin Netanyahu agree to a ceasefire plan which would bring Israeli prisoners held by Hamas home,, and to call a new general election which would likely remove him as prime minister. Vega, via X, screen capture from embedded video

This important public plaza, renamed by locals shortly after the Hamas assault in northern Israel on October 7, in remembrance of those Israelis captured at that time, has always been a place where the public would often pull together to challenge decisions of its government that it disagrees with. Located directly adjacent to the famed Tel Aviv Museum of Art, it was, for example, the place where an estimated 250,000 gathered in early 2023 to express their anger over a Netanyahu plan to gut the powers of the High Court of Israel in challenging decisions made by Israel’s prime minister and cabinet.

The protest which took place in Hostages Square on the evening of July 29 was organized by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a group with a singular focus on securing the release of the remaining estimated 120 Israeli prisoners from within Gaza. It drew tens of thousands – and possibly upwards of one hundred thousand – people demanding Netanyahu sign a ceasefire deal in Gaza which might bring the Israeli captives home to their families.

A featured speaker for the event was Noa Argamani, one of four Israeli captives recently freed by Israeli Defense Forces in a deadly mid-day assault on the Palestinian Nuseirat refugee camp. 270 innocent Palestinians were murdered by IDF forces in that attack, which they claimed as justified and a success because it resulted in the rescue of four of the Israelis captured by Hamas over eight months’ ago, during the October 7 Hamas raid at the Nova Music Festival.

The former prisoner appeared virtually at the event, via a video played to the Hostages Square audience, and simultaneously to another equally sizeable group at Kaplan Square just a few blocks away. It was her first public statement since her rescue only a few weeks ago.

"I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that there are still 120 hostages in Hamas captivity,” she said.

“Among them is Avinatan Or, my partner, from whom I was separated at the moment of abduction,” she continued. “Although I'm home now, we can't forget about the hostages who are still in Hamas captivity, and we must do everything possible to bring them back home."

Also speaking at the event was Danny Elgarat, not a hostage himself but whose brother Itzik was also captured by Hamas. He too called out the current government’s lack of closure to bring those still held in Gaza back home, but added the harsh criticism that the only reason Netanyahu did not want to do a deal with Hamas was to stay in place as the country’s head of state.

"[Netanyahu] said [the taking of the hostages at the music festival] was the end, but he was wrong,” Elgarat told the people before him. “The day of the kidnapping was not the end.”

“October 7 was the beginning of the second abandonment, one that was more terrible than the first…one that was done intentionally,” he said. “It was an abandonment for one purpose only: to remain in power.”

In a separate protest march happening simultaneously in Karkur Junction in the Wadi area in northern Israel, the rallies were in the many thousands and carrying a similar message.

Typical of the Karkur banners the Israeli protesters carried with them was one that read, “Netanyahu does not want the war to end and the hostages to return,” echoing Danny Elgarat’s words from Tel Aviv.

Those at the Karkur protest were continuously shouting the phrases “We need new leadership!” and “Elections Now!”

In Caesarea, the wealthy coastal resort town on the Mediterranean coast situated roughly halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa to its north, protesters also pulled together outside Benjamin Netanyahu’s luxury estate there to make it clear their frustration with the prime minister had reached the boiling point.

The people who showed up in the streets there, also in the thousands, chanted their demand for an “immediate” plan to get the remaining Israeli prisoners released from Gaza. Like the other groups, they also declared the urgent need for new elections to establish a new coalition government in the country.

The public at large is not the only voice in Israel calling for agreeing to some sort of ceasefire now to allow return of prisoners and to hold new elections.

One of the strongest public proponents of both is Zionist Benny Gantz, head of the opposition centrist National Unity Party which importantly aligned itself with Netanyahu’s Likud Party in the last elections held in late 2022.

While still part of the War Cabinet which Netanyahu chaired with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to manage war operations against Hamas in Gaza, Gantz made a televised challenge to Netanyahu’s leadership demanding a plan for how Israel planned to handle the issues in Gaza after the war ended. In a speech aired on May 18, he exposed the divisive underbelly of day-to-day operations in the cabinet, declaring that, “Lately, something has gone wrong, essential decision were not made.”

“Personal and political considerations have infiltrated the holy of holies of Israeli security,” he continued, with a message echoed by the ongoing citizen protests against Netanyahu’s leadership which were already well under way.

Gantz then issued a declaration that if Netanyahu did not come up with a plan for “the day after” the war was over by June 8, he would resign from the cabinet.

No plan surfaced as of that date. On June 9, Gantz resigned.

Days after Gantz’s resignation, right-wing cabinet ministers National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich began intense private lobbying to have one or both take Gantz’s place in the War Cabinet. They argued they deserved a stronger voice in how the war was being run, while also concurring with the growing national dissatisfaction with Netanyahu’s progress in securing prisoners held by Hamas. They also reminded Netanyahu that, without the backing of their two parties in the coalition government Netanyahu’s Likud Party established in December 2022, Netanyahu might not have secured his position as prime minister then.

The frustration Ben Gvir and Smotrich have with Netanyahu has been growing over time. Both believe he has been too soft on Hamas and the Palestinian people at large.

Netanyahu evaded the pressures those two put on him to have them replace Gantz on the War Cabinet by dissolving it on June 17. Part of his argument for doing so was that the war against Hamas in Gaza was almost over, and there was no longer a need for the constant review of military operations that the War Cabinet provided.

It is unclear what the reactions of Ben Gvir and Smotrich were to Netanyahu dismantling the War Cabinet. Their public silence might even suggest that either of them might resign in protest to the action. If either were to do that and add further to complications by also withdrawing their political parties’ support for the Likud Party coalition, Netanyahu’s tenuous majority lead in the Knesset could be seriously undermined.

Since that time, Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza has become bloodier and spread again back through all of Gaza in doing so. As many expected within Israel and beyond, Netanyahu and his military are demonstrating the war might go on for many months further.

Netanyahu is also facing the high probability of the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon exploding into a serious heated war which could be far more difficult to address than the one in Gaza.

All this could make the protests of ordinary Israelis in the streets of Tel Aviv, Karkur Junction, and Netanyahu’s hometown of Caesarea this weekend enough to force Netanyahu’s hand on both the ceasefire issue and calling for new elections.

Despite the chaos such an event might create for Israel at a critical time, one thing to remember about the Israeli citizens who are protesting is that they still overwhelmingly support the war of genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza, and in the mass killings and property seizures along the Israeli-occupied West Bank. What they are upset about primarily is that Netanyahu has failed in the task of bringing the hostages home from Gaza. It is for that reason that current polls show an estimated two-thirds of the country’s population are demanding

As of yesterday, Israeli Defense Forces have murdered an estimated 37,900 Palestinians including 15,000 children in Gaza. Another 86,969 are injured. Another 10,000 are still missing and mostly likely dead. Israel and most of the western powers in the world say this is justified because “Israel has a right to defend itself”.

An estimated 1,139 Israelis in total have been killed in the various battles waged between Hamas and Israel, in northern Israel where the original October 7 invasion happened and within Gaza itself.