‘Netanyahu is the Problem.’ Why Tens of Hundreds Are Protesting in Israel

TThousands of Israeli protesters are calling for the release of those held captive in Gaza, flooding the streets this week as the prime minister demands it. Benjamin Netanyahu scroll down and call for polls.

Public anger over the failure to reach a peace deal came to a head on March 30 in the biggest demonstration the country has seen since it began its war with Hamas six months ago.

At rallies in Israel, the largest in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, crowds chanted and waved signs and flags. Some people lit a fire in the street. In response to the small groups blocking the roads, the police pushed peoplethey brought horses, and fired water cannons, which resulted in their arrest, according to eyewitness accounts, videos, and photos.

The situation changed on Saturday when some relatives of former hostages told TIME that they started calling for Netanyahu to resign to free their loved ones, to cooperate with the opposition.

Eyal Nouri, whose aunt Adina Moses was released from captivity in November, he told TIME by phone that he sees the prime minister as an obstacle to the deal. “We realized that Netanyahu was the problem,” he says. “If you’re in charge of the government, then you’re in charge.”

Netanyahu he said in the video a statement released on Sunday that he is doing everything he can to secure the release of the hostages. “Anyone who says that I am not doing anything to return the hostages is wrong and is misleading others. Anyone who knows the truth and continues to repeat this lie is bringing unnecessary pain to the families of the hostages.” said the prime minister. “I repeat: I am committed to the return of all hostages, mothers and fathers, civilians and soldiers, alive and victims. I will not spare a single one.

In response to TIME’s questions about the protests and Netanyahu’s criticism, Ophir Falk, Israel’s Prime Minister, said Wednesday: “The entire government and people of Israel have the hostages and their families in our hearts and always in our thoughts.”

“Destroying Hamas and freeing the hostages are not separate goals. On the contrary, these services support each other,” he said, adding that the military’s pressure on Hamas led to the release of the hostages. “Israel will continue to do what is necessary to achieve all of its military objectives.”

Hamas kidnapped 253 people on Oct. 7, according to the Prime Minister’s office. By the end of March, 130 remained alive in Gaza, and 34 were believed to have died. Those still alive include 111 men and 19 women, including two children under the age of five and 11 from abroad.

While Israel is facing problems at home, it is also being criticized abroad for its retaliation and attacks on Gaza that have killed 32,850 Palestinians. according to the Hamas-run health ministry and foreign workers.

Here’s what you need to know about the protests in Israel.

What do the opposition in Israel want?

The most important thing is for the government to do whatever it takes to get an agreement on expropriation immediately.

“There will be no victory if the hostages don’t return,” Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat, 39, is being held, told TIME by phone. “I don’t care about blood or revenge, I don’t want to see people die on both sides of the border. What I want to see is a return and the Palestinians coming home from where they were driven. “

Dickmann says the pressure has been building for months, but in the end “it all blew up because we got tired of waiting.” He and others are using pressure because they are worried that the latest Israeli-Hamas talks “may be the last chance to keep many of the hostages alive, because every day that passes their lives are in danger.”

The Times of Israel He also said that the Israeli negotiations they will come back this week from mediation without forming a contract.

For the past two months, weekly meetings have been held in Tel Aviv with two groups—one focused on getting a hostage deal and the other calling on the government to resign, Nouri said. But on Saturday, the protests coalesced as some of the families of the hostages decided that Netanyahu would make his first public announcement of his resignation.

“We have been silent and ordered to be silent for half a year, but not anymore,” Efrat Machikawa, whose 80-year-old uncle Gadi Moses is a hostage, he tells TIME over the phone. “I’m a concerned family member and a democratic citizen who has the right to say enough, and if you can’t do it, let someone else do it…He’s the one to blame. It’s a failure–it’s his failure.”

Nouri and Machikawa said they believe Netanyahu is putting politics ahead of the good, and Machikawa said he should step down as president.

Dickmann, however, says that he and other families remain politicians: “I don’t really care who the prime minister is right now, what I care about is that the hostages return.”

How has the protests grown recently?

Protests escalated on Saturday in Tel Aviv, with one group setting fire to the entrance of the Ministry of Defense and another rallying on Begin Road, Nouri said.

Machikawa said the police shut down the speaker just before he was about to speak. Then he saw things going wrong on the main road under the bridge he was riding on: “I saw the policemen pushing each other and being very aggressive with everyone around them.” When he got off the bridge, he saw “big black horses coming and someone shouting that you should not walk on the road, you are not allowed to stay here, this is not a valid protest.” Then he ran away because of fear, he says.

Dickmann says the police were “much more violent” than before, which “many of us did not expect” for the families of the hostages. Nouri says that it was a small group, about 50 people, who clashed with the police, while he and many others had no problems.

Similarly large protests and disputes It happened in Jerusalem on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, according to reports.

In a statement emailed to TIME, the Israeli police said the recent incidents in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem required “our immediate and decisive intervention due to violations of public order and security concerns.” Police said 17 people were arrested for rioting in the Tel Aviv district on Saturday, and since Sunday, 10 people have been arrested for various riots, including but not limited to lighting fires in the streets, using pyrotechnics, and intentionally destroying a police motorcycle.

The Israeli police said they are “committed to ensuring public safety and maintaining order and respecting people’s right to express their views legitimately.”

“Although the Israeli police will continue to allow legal demonstrations, we will take action against attempts to disrupt peace, endanger urban life, incite violence, or violate the law. We want to prevent incitement, hate speech, and illegal behavior of any kind,” the statement said. “Everything is evaluated individually, taking into account things like public safety and compliance with the law. The police are authorized to intervene to maintain order, including breaking up illegal gatherings and arresting people. “

By Wednesday, protesters had camped outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and were sleeping in Hostages’ Square in Tel Aviv, Nouri said.

The Knesset will be in recess from April 7 to May 19–family time off was criticized in the middle of the crisis. Dickmann says Hostages and Missing Families Forumthe coalition he is part of is moving its office from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem during the Knesset recess and is planning a large rally on April 7, the anniversary of the six-month war.

How has Netanyahu responded?

Netanyahu in his video address on Sunday rejected criticism that he is not working as hard as he can to free the hostages. He added that dialogue is “the only way to pay back those who captured us.” But he said Israel would not agree to Hamas’ proposal to allow the “unsupervised return of Gazans – including Hamas terrorists – to the north” for “security” reasons.

“The truth is that when Israel shows flexibility in the negotiations, Hamas hardens its position,” the Prime Minister said.

Netanyahu also criticized the call for elections now, saying that doing so during the war “will prevent negotiations for the release of our hostages and will ultimately lead to ending the war before it achieves its goals and the first to praise this will be Hamas, and that says it all.”

contact us to letters@time.com.

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