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Israeli protesters demand Netanyahu accept a ceasefire deal to bring back hostages

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Jerusalem today, Israelis from around the country gathered at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence to demonstrate.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLES BLOWING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: The crowd beat drums, blew horns and chanted for Netanyahu to step down. Protesters are calling this week a week of resistance. NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi joins us from Jerusalem. Hi, Hadeel.

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: I know that you were at the demonstration tonight. Can you just tell us what you saw, what you heard?

AL-SHALCHI: Sure. So there were at least 2,000 people close to the prime minister's home today. They chanted antigovernment slogans. They spilled red paint on the street, symbolizing what they see as the dead hostages' blood on the government's hands. People waved Israeli flags. They carried signs that said stop the madness, stop Bibi, referring to Netanyahu. The people I talked to said they want Prime Minister Netanyahu to stand down. They want new elections and, of course, a cease-fire to lead to the release of the remaining 120 hostages.

And Israelis have been protesting almost every day this week at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Tel Aviv's Hostage Square, in Caesarea, Netanyahu's home there. And the mood keeps getting angrier and angrier as the war drags on since the October 7 attacks by Hamas. Tamar Lahav was smoking a cigarette close to the back of the protest.

TAMAR LAHAV: And I cannot trust my own government to protect me, which is a really, really terrible thing for me as a citizen. If something will happen to me in the middle of the night or somebody will kidnap me, nobody will protect me in this government.

AL-SHALCHI: Lahav traveled from a kibbutz an hour away from Jerusalem to show her support. She said she's been coming to protests for months, and she's just reached a point where she's afraid of her own government.

CHANG: Well, do you get the sense, Hadeel, that these protests are gathering momentum and they're only going to get bigger?

AL-SHALCHI: It really definitely seems that way. This isn't the first time the protesters have gathered outside Netanyahu's home, but they are getting bigger as the war drags on. Yoav Peck said he just felt a responsibility to come to the demonstrations.

YOAV PECK: We have to say something. We don't know if it will have any effect at all on him, but we have to be in the street and express our desperate fear for our country.

AL-SHALCHI: The demonstrations have also been given added momentum since the resignation last week of two centrist members from the Cabinet. They stood down saying they were frustrated with how Netanyahu was handling the war. And then the war Cabinet was dissolved this week. One of those who quit was Benny Gantz, and his resignation really reflected that growing discontent that I saw today. Without Gantz, Netanyahu is forced to depend on his far-right partners who don't want the war to end and have actually threatened to topple the government, which means elections for Netanyahu.

CHANG: Right. Meanwhile, there are signs of a growing riff between Netanyahu and the Israeli military, right? What can you tell us about that?

AL-SHALCHI: Yeah. So Netanyahu already criticized the military earlier this week for declaring a limited pause in operations along a humanitarian route in southern Gaza. And then today, his office quickly rebuffed comments by Israeli's top military spokesman Daniel Hagari. Hagari said that the military is close to defeating Hamas and Gaza, but Israel's government must decide what - who should replace it.

CHANG: That is NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi in Jerusalem. Thank you so much Hadeel.

AL-SHALCHI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.