Nearly a week after major fighting between Israel and Gaza ceased, thousands of protesters gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night to urge Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to resume the peace process with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas.
Meretz leader MK Zehava Gal-On said Netanyahu should quit because he failed in his attempts to bring quiet to the South, despite having a “blank check” to act for five years. She said Israel would do better to lift the blockade on Gaza, end the occupation of Palestinian territories and return to negotiations that extend beyond a cease-fire.
“You could have achieved the framework you are willing to accept now without paying the price of 64 dead soldiers and the deaths of civilians,” Gal-On told Netanyahu. The crowd shouted “Bibi go home.”
Against the backdrop of the Tel Aviv Municipality building, lit up as an enormous Israeli flag, people carried signs reading, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” and “When there is no peace, war comes.”
Organizers estimated the turnout at some 10,000 people, but Israeli media estimated the crowd simply as “thousands.”
Author David Grossman told the crowd that there is no military solution to Israel’s conflict with Hamas.
“There is still a critical mass who want peace,” he said.
Grossman decried incitement and said that Israel is becoming less tolerant of dissenting views. He accused Netanyahu of encouraging such incitement by not condemning it.
Notably absent from the rally was a significant counterprotest, though the police had prepared for such a possibility. Throughout Operative Protective Edge, several protests in which rightwing groups came to demonstrate against left-wing groups erupted in violence.
“There is a feeling that, while the fighting is going on and we have soldiers in the field, we should stay quiet, but now that the fighting is done it is the right time to speak out,” said one protester.
The event was delayed by a week due to threats of Hamas rocket fire on Tel Aviv.
Ofer Prag, a 52-year-old Meretz activist from Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, said that he, too, came to ensure that the Left’s voice was heard.
“We could have gone down the political path before this war started and averted 64 Israeli deaths and nearly 2,000 Palestinian ones,” he said. “After a war is a good time to speak up. Bibi is already talking to Hamas. The question is, what will he talk to them about?” Former Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip chairman Dani Dayan called the demonstration a “colossal failure.” He tweeted that with 10 organizations sponsoring the rally, the turnout was very low.
Former Shas spokesman Itzik Sudri complained that the event was held on Saturday night, which he said prevented Sabbath-observant peace activists like himself from attending.
“I am a religious, Sabbath-observant man who desires a diplomatic agreement,” Sudri tweeted. “Holding the event so close to the Sabbath prevented me and many like me from participating. This is a failure of the Left.”