Tel Aviv, Begin Gate, Saturday, May 4, 2024, 8:37 PM (Day 210)

Two members of the K. editorial team, Julia Christ and Élie Petit, are currently in Israel to document and analyze the various movements underway in the country, post-October 7 – the war in Gaza is still going on and an agreement is in indirect talks between Israel and Hamas for the cessation of fighting and the release of hostages. First stop on their journey this week: on their first evening in Tel Aviv, they took part in one of the weekly anti-Netanyahu demonstrations, guided by producer Karen Belz. They report their impressions and first analysis.


Demonstrators block the road under the Azrieli Bridge. The names of all the hostages are read out. At the mention of each name, the crowd responds עכשיו, Achshav, “Now”.


The city seems quieter than usual. A tag reminds us that the number of femicides per year stands at eighteen and that sexual and domestic violence are widespread, that it’s time to believe the word of every Israeli woman. On the way to the demonstration, families returning from the beach gradually give way to groups carrying Israeli flags, sometimes adorned with other symbols, sometimes hijacked altogether. Many are wearing Bring them Home now T-shirts, each featuring the face of one of the 132 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza. Tonight, on our first stopover, we meet Karen Belz, a film producer in Israel (and daughter of Bernard Belz, one of K.‘s translators). She guides us through the movement, of which she has been a member since its beginnings, which began as a protest against judicial reform and is now demanding the release of the hostages.

Banner at one of the entrances to the demonstration: “Yes! to a political process, No! to a messianic delusion”.

At the entrance, numerous demonstrators call for an end to the occupation and hand out stickers urging peace between Arabs and Jews. Karen Belz observes: “Not everyone agrees with the way they see and formulate their positions, but they’re part of the demonstration. Me, I put on all the stickers. What unites us here is the flag and the fierce desire for Netanyahu to leave. There are more people this week than last, because in the meantime there has been a concrete proposal concerning the hostages and we are fully aware here that Netanyahu will try to sweep it away.” She adds: “Still, we are less mobilized than during the demonstrations for democracy and against judicial reform. We’ve been demonstrating every week for two years, and we’re exhausted. But we can’t give up; we have no choice but to fight.”

לא נוותר לא נוותר לא נוותר chants the crowd: “We won’t give up, We won’t give up, We won’t give up!”.

A placard that reads, “No one is free until we are all free.”

That evening, as every week, speeches were held until 8:30 p.m., before the crowd makes its way to Begin Gate, where the military headquarters, ‘Hakirya’, is located. The building is towering. Karen comments, “All this show of force wasn’t enough on October 7. If they decide to sacrifice the hostages, then it won’t be the same Israel. We fought for five years for Gilad Shalit (a French-Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006, who was exchanged for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners), and we won’t give up on them. Otherwise, who will send their children to the army, if the social contract is broken?”

חיים חיים רוצים אותם חיים, “Alive, alive, we want them back alive”

The military headquarters
Speeches, booing and slogans

People boo into small, colorful plastic cones, bought on the spot or brought to the demonstration. On stage, the words “democracy”, “October”, and Hatufim, “hostages”, recur. Gaza, Netanyahu, Ben Gvir, Smotrich too – accompanied by booing – and the slogan אתה הראש אתה אשם, “You’re the leader, you’re responsible.” Everything is broadcast on screens, with live subtitles. A sign language interpreter translates the tearful speeches.

T-Shirt of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum

A squad of police officers passes through the crowd. The demonstrators blow their whistles a few centimetres from the police officers’ ears. They blame them for preventing demonstrations and road occupations. They also blame them for the intolerable speeches and oppressive orders of the far-right Interior Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. Slogans resume.

Banner hung along the demonstration: “Netanyahu, it’s either an agreement, or Ben Gvir. You choose.”

On stage is Yonathan Shamriz, brother of one of the hostages unintentionally killed by Tzahal in Gaza on December 15, 2023. He founded the Kumu movement, “Stand up”. Today he adds: “Stand up! For we have no other country”. Rivka Naria Ben Shahar, a religious woman, speaks next: “Smotrich, we grew up with the same texts. They say that we must respect others, even if they have different opinions from us. You treat hostages like merchandise.” The mobilized families seem to interpret the government’s reluctance to reach an agreement as linked to the fact that the majority of the hostages are left-wing, from the kibbutzim in the south of the country or from the Nova festival rave party. “When Netanyahu receives families, religious people are disproportionately represented,” notes Karen bitterly. Booing still rings out at the screening of a short film showing far-right ministers Miri Regev and Bezalel Smotrich being challenged by hostage families during their public travels. “עכשיו, עכשיו, Achshav, Achshav” (“Now”) appears large on the screen, in black and red, like that Bring them Home logo, which seems to have converted the entire country to a two-tone, black-and-blood graphic charter. On stage, the speaker confesses that she is sometimes ashamed to dress as an Orthodox Jew because the messianists in government have pre-empted religious speech. She calls for elections and tearfully renders the opening words of the Avinu Malkeinu prayer, recited between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, during the ten days of repentance.

Poster along the demonstration: “In war, everyone loses” by the collective ‘Eyes on the Occupation’ (name in Hebrew, Arabic and English)

An Israeli actor takes the floor, one of the few to participate assiduously in the movement. We ask Karen about the way in which Israeli cinema is experiencing and accompanying this period: “It’s still too early to make films about what we’re going through, apart from instant documentaries. The government is currently passing a reform of cinema funding, introducing a points-based system that will reward the most popular films and certainly penalize committed cinema. In addition to this attack on home-grown creation, our films are no longer selected for international festivals, and it has become virtually impossible to reach co-production agreements in Europe”. While surrounded, Karen recounts that her shoot in the north of the country this week miraculously passed without any missile fire, despite the fact that salvos had rained down immediately before and immediately after.


On one of the screens, at the end of each speech and short film, the slogan עכשיו, Achshav, “Now”


A never-ending present

One word stands out – עכשיו, Achshav, “Now” – a single word to synthesize all the slogans. Its function seems to be to say that this has gone on long enough, that there is no horizon. The hostage agreement now, their release now, elections now. A word that ignores the past and the future. When asked whether they have forgiven the army for its failure on October 7, we receive a curious response: “There’s no time for that”. No time to deal with the past, to judge it, to reassess it. No time to think about the future. The people that are taking to the streets seem trapped in a present that has lasted since October 7, and leaves room for only one word: now. This word, used as a rallying cry, as a political demand concerning the hostages and the war, expresses much more: that one must put an end to the eternity in which we are trapped, that one must carry out the act that will enable us all to rediscover a long temporality, to judge, to plan, to think. Netanyahu is criticized for doing everything he can to keep Israel in this trap of an endless present, so that he can reign, like the living dead, eternally over a society with neither past nor future.

״החטופים בעזה יותר מדי ימים, הדם על הידיים של ממשלת הדמים״, “The hostages have been in Gaza far too long, their blood is on the hands of this damned government.”

On the sign: “Impeachment now.”

Near the dispersal point, opposite the military headquarters, a screen counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds since October 7. “It’s an unbearable place,” Karen murmurs as she walks away. “Tomorrow is Yom HaShoah. We don’t know what to do, everything’s getting mixed up. It’s a struggle to make sense of it all.”


The screen counting down the days


Postscript: Monday, 06/05/2024, Yom HaShoah – 7:13pm – Azrieli Bridge.

Demonstrators blocking the road

Netanyahu has ordered the army to begin operations at Rafah and is stalling on the Hamas proposal. As happens several times a week throughout the country, small groups of protesters gather. We join the demonstration in Tel Aviv, again in front of the military headquarters. People are blocking the street, first standing up, then lying down on the pavement.

Protesters blocking the road, lying down

Regularly, the police give the signal to lift the blockade. The demonstrators then retreat for a few minutes, let the waiting buses and cars pass, then reclaim the road. No honking. Everyone waits patiently, reading the posters carefully, giving signs of support as they finally pass the temporary roadblock. For it’s the motorists that the demonstration is aimed at and not, as might have been expected, the military headquarters, whose entrance is just a few steps away from the demonstrators and to which they turn their backs. They are appealing to the civil society. Unperturbed, the military staff leave their workplace by the hundreds. A car every ten seconds or so. Many wear a yellow ribbon on the handle, the color of the fight to free the hostages.

The woman with the yellow backpack

One exception is a woman carrying a yellow backpack. She stands in front of every car leaving the headquarters complex, a sign held high to her chest, and waits until the driver has had time to read it. Then she steps back to let him pass. Often, as she passes, the car stops and the driver rolls down the window to chat with her. Sometimes, the driver, forced to stop, gets out of his car to give her a hug. No hatred from the demonstrators towards their army, no anger from the army towards the people fighting to save their own. The sign held by the woman with the yellow backpack reads: “And if it was your sister”. And it seems that everyone knows that this is exactly the question being asked.

Julia Christ et Élie Petit

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