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Reportage. Although there is great empathy for the families of the hostages among the population, those who are demonstrating concretely against the Rafah operation are almost exclusively the small blocs of the radical left.

Protesters in Tel Aviv: ‘The blood of the hostages is on your hands’

Just before sunset, on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, thousands of Israelis who had arrived from all over the country to take part in the demonstrations were already pouring into the streets of Tel Aviv. Young and old, all were walking briskly toward the rally points, many with flags in hand. Looking at their faces, one could see tiredness, worry, frustration, anger; but what one could see most of all was the bitter awareness that time is running out.

“Today it’s 218 days since our loved ones have been imprisoned in the hell of Gaza,” began the customary speeches by the families before the start of the protests. “We have gathered here to shout to all the people of Israel that the Israeli government has given up on the hostages, abandoning them to die as prisoners of Hamas. Today it has become clear that only another government can bring them home. In recent weeks, the prime minister has engaged in criminal sabotage. It is Netanyahu’s fault that there is no deal and the hostages don’t return. He is abandoning our family members, leaving them to die for political considerations. Entering Rafah and expanding the military operation make the prospect of an agreement more remote and put our loved ones at risk. As long as Netanyahu remains in power, the hostages will not return, because he doesn’t want them home.”

“But Netanyahu doesn’t sit alone in the war cabinet,” they continued. “Gallant, Gantz and Eizenkot: you’re allowing Netanyahu to sabotage the agreements, you won’t stop him, you won’t expose him and you cooperate with him. The blood of the hostages is also on your hands: you too are accomplices in their abandonment. To save the hostages, you can and must stop the war!”

This extraordinary appeal by relatives, in a desperate attempt to save those who are still alive, comes after yet another video released by Hamas, which is always one step ahead of Israel when it comes to communications.

However, although there is great empathy for the families of the hostages among the population, seven months after the start of the conflict, those who are demonstrating concretely against the Rafah operation are almost exclusively the small blocs of the radical left, who are arguing that in Israel, after October 7, ethics and morals have officially undergone a process of decay, and, together with them, the possibility of freely expressing criticism and dissent. Most of Jewish society still seems to be caught in the propaganda slogan of “together we will win”; but above all, it is trapped in mourning and grief, which the continued retelling of the victims’ stories and the still-ongoing traumas certainly don’t help people to overcome.

And so it is that this year, Israel prepared for the commemorations of the annual Day of Remembrance for the War Dead and Victims of Terrorist Attacks, which began on Sunday evening at the traditional sounding of the siren. The commemoration of the fallen comes one week after that of the victims of the Holocaust and one day before the celebration of Israel’s independence.

This highly impactful sequence is no accident: each spring, it leverages the tragedy of the Shoah, while also giving it the thankless task of legitimizing the Israeli political and military agenda for more than seven decades. As historian Yair Auron writes in his The Holocaust, Rebirth, and the Nakbah, over the course of three generations Israel has cultivated foundational myths linking the Shoah and rebirth, shaping the collective consciousness accordingly. The message of the legislature was clear from the beginning: in the new homeland, the dramatic defeat culminating in the extermination of six million Jews during the Shoah was never to be repeated. Over the years, the multiplication of wars and terrorist attacks, also abetted by the policies of Israeli governments themselves, have only fueled a hero narrative that celebrates the victims, with a perspective that is still too uncritical.

The question is whether, when faced with the reality of the thousands of soldiers who have been returning from war for seven months with complex post-traumatic syndrome, needing therapy and support animals to be able to leave home, when faced with the dead, wounded, thousands of displaced civilians, and hostages, when faced with the international disapproval that has bolstered anti-Semitism, as well as the economic crisis and the general deterioration of mental health, the time has not come to seriously reverse course – if not out of empathy for the Palestinians, at least to safeguard Jewish society and save it from the abyss into which it is plunging.

Of course, as the website of Parents Circle – Family Forum, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization that since 1995 has gathered more than 600 families who have lost a family member to the ongoing conflict, reminds us, “war is not a predetermined fate, but only a human choice.”

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