Thousands of people rallied outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem on Saturday to call on the government to do more to free hostages held in the Gaza Strip, the culmination of a five-day march from Tel Aviv that began with just 100 friends and family of the captives. The rally, one of several that families of the hostages have organized over recent weeks, is a sign of the increasing pressure on Netanyahu over his handling of the war.
Also on Saturday night, thousands rallied outside the central military headquarters in Tel Aviv. During the rally, frustration with the government briefly boiled over when dozens of protesters, shouting through megaphones, drowned out the scheduled speakers to criticize the Israeli military’s invasion of Gaza and to call for the immediate release of hostages held there. In Jerusalem, the marchers had been walking about 10 miles a day, holding pictures of their loved ones and chanting “Bring them home now!” along a main highway connecting the two cities. Many have been camping along the way.
Yair Moses, 49, who said six of his relatives, including his parents, were among those taken hostage Oct. 7, walked more than 50 miles in the past five days and nearly lost his voice. “I can continue walking indefinitely if it helps bring the hostages home,” he said.
Some families of the hostages have urged the Israeli government to do everything possible to immediately return their loved ones, including agreeing to a cease-fire and the release of Palestinian prisoners, if necessary.
Noam Alon, 24, whose girlfriend, Inbar Heiman, is being held hostage in Gaza, said he wanted Netanyahu and members of the war Cabinet to meet with representatives of the families and “look in our eyes before they decide who will be freed now and who won’t, who will live and who won’t.”
In Tel Aviv, about 80 people representing the families of hostages met with Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, two more moderate opposition politicians who have joined Israel’s emergency war Cabinet.
The officials answered the hostage families’ questions for about an hour and a half, according to Shay Benjamin, 25, who was at the meeting. “I appreciate that they came,” Benjamin said, although she added, “They didn’t bring any new information.”
In a news conference Saturday evening, Netanyahu announced that the full war Cabinet would meet with representatives of the families this coming week. Addressing them, he said, “I march with you.”
Despite the prime minister’s assurances, Benjamin said she did not feel supported by Netanyahu. “Where is he?” she said. “He wasn’t there.”
Israel’s government has said it is working to bring back the hostages. Netanyahu suggested in an interview with CBS this past week that Israel could agree to a temporary pause in hostilities “only if we have our hostages back.”
Israeli forces rescued a hostage last month, and four others were released. But despite negotiations led by Qatar and the United States, there has been no further breakthrough on a deal for a hostage swap.
In recent days, marchers have received more bad news. The bodies of two hostages, Judith Waiss and Cpl. Noa Marciano, were found Thursday and Friday near Shifa Hospital. Their families left the march to mourn.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.