An hour after the start of the demonstration, hundreds of people are still making their way up the hill where the Israeli state institutions are headquartered. The Victory March failed to reach the attendance levels the organizers had hoped for, 50,000 participants, but it is still a success: around 10,000 to 15,000 people are on the street leading to the Knesset and the Supreme Court. Definitely more than those taking to the streets in solidarity with the families of the Israeli hostages in Gaza.
That was not a given for an initiative launched just two weeks ago by a complicated alliance revolving around the newly-formed Reservists until Victory (Mahal HaMiluimnikim), whose membership includes reservists, soldiers returning from Gaza, rabbis, right-wing activists and ex-military members of the Ad Kan group, and other groups such as Mothers of Soldiers, Lobby 1701, the Tikva Forum, all united under the slogan “Going forward until victory.”
According to the female soldier who takes the microphone for the first speech, victory means the destruction of Hamas, and that is only possible with the army in Gaza. This idea is shared by top government leaders and a chunk of Israeli society: there should be no negotiations, the war should go on. What is striking, however, is the crowd: it looks more like a social event than a gathering of people calling for war. Families, parents with children still in strollers, elderly couples, kids; laymen and ultra-Orthodox, soldiers in uniform and civilians with guns; middle-aged gentlemen in ties and young college girls in sneakers – all ordinary citizens. There are dads carrying their daughters on their shoulders, kids carrying a stretcher with a soldier’s helmet on it, and lines have formed to pick up signs with a picture of a soldier who died in Gaza.
There are no pictures of the hostages. “You have to accept some sacrifice to win,” Alex says as he hands out stickers. “Netanyahu must not try to get out of there, the job must be finished or the blood spilled will have been wasted,” explains a young woman. From the stage, the alternating speakers insist on one word: “Victory.” They shout it to applause from the crowd, which is waving thousands of “My friend did not die in vain” signs.
The anguish that accompanies everyday life post-October 7, the shock that so many Israelis try to convey, has been transformed into euphoria. The crowd sings, dances to the rhythm of pop music blasted from the stage, keeps time with horns and improvises picnics. Yonathan, 60 years old and with a white mustache, tells us a possible reason: “We have become mainstream. Our ideas have become mainstream.” After all, the ideas are the same as those of the ruling ultra-right, of religious nationalism and messianic Zionism, but also Likud: Palestinians, like the Biblical Amalekites, must be wiped out. “There is talk of ending the war, of creating a Palestinian state,” Matan Wiesel, one of the organizers, said on the eve of the protest. “If we don’t occupy and control the enemy’s territory, we will send a message to the region: Israel is weak.”
The March, which started on February 4 from the Zikim kibbutz and has been documented on Facebook and X, has kept stressing the same message for days, publishing photos of protesters in shorts mixed with video messages from soldiers in the field, rabbis aligned with right-wing movements and parents of fallen soldiers. They call for filling up the squares to make sure the guns remain loaded: “The end of days is coming. When the Messiah will appear, everyone will bow down to the Creator. Gaza must be wiped out. Gaza is doing fine – all too well, in fact.” These words are accompanied by videos of the Palestinian enclave shot before October 7 but passed off as current, with markets full of cheerful people, shawarma restaurants and trucks driving on roads with neither rubble nor craters.
The goals of the March, put in black and white, are the same as those of a significant chunk of the Israeli government: Smotrich and Ben Gvir and their conferences for the recolonization of Gaza, and, in a more subtle form, Netanyahu himself: “Land: secure victory in the campaign by taking significant territory from the Gaza Strip and annexing it to the state of Israel; Enemy: the destruction of Hamas and the encouragement of emigration of the ‘uninvolved’ population of Gaza; Aid: the enemy should not be provided with any logistical aid.” The latter refers to the humanitarian aid that groups adhering to the March, led by Mothers of Soldiers, have been blockading, often successfully, at the port of Ashdod and the Kerem Shalom crossing. In short: colonization of the Strip and expulsion of the Palestinian population, and until then, famine and disease.
There’s not even a mention of the Israeli hostages. This approach is also becoming more and more mainstream, as according to the latest polls, only half of Israelis consider their release a priority (meanwhile, their families were in Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening demanding a deal again).
Gaza is very far away, much more than an hour and a half drive. In the sky above Jerusalem, one can’t even hear the fighter jets, which are passing over the West Bank. The city of Rafah is the farthest point on the map. It was heavily bombed the night before the March, especially in its western area.
“Expanded hostilities in Rafah could collapse the humanitarian response,” warned the Norwegian Refugee Council NGO on Thursday. Rafah is only 63 square kilometers but is now home to 1.4 million civilians, two-thirds of Gaza’s entire population. This shrinking of the Strip is sounding the alarm at the United Nations. On Thursday, Volker Turk, High Commissioner for human rights, warned Israel that the creation of a buffer zone through the blanket destruction of thousands of civilian buildings amounts to a war crime (according to Palestinian ministerial sources, 3,000 buildings were set on fire in recent weeks by the Israeli army, something often documented on social platforms by the soldiers themselves).
In the meantime, the deaths keep piling up: 27,840 Palestinians killed, plus thousands more missing. Among the victims is a 14-year-old girl, killed by an Israeli sniper outside the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis. She had apparently gone out to look for water.
She needed to because the hospital has been completely besieged for days: 300 doctors, 450 wounded and 10,000 displaced people are locked inside, without food. According to reporters in the region, there is sniper fire outside. On their part, the reporters are mourning another colleague: Nafez Abdel Jawad, of Palestine TV, who was killed in an air raid together with his son, in Deir el-Balah. He is the 123rd reporter killed since October 7, as confirmed by Reporters Without Borders: “Palestinian journalism has been decimated by the Israeli armed forces.”