Thousands of people in Israel have marched together in the “biggest mobilisation of Jews and Palestinians” since the war in Gaza began, calling for a ceasefire and a solution for both groups to live peacefully side by side.
Alon-Lee Green, co-director of the Jewish-Arab peace coalition Standing Together, said more than 2,000 people took to the streets in Tel Aviv on Thursday night to protest against the war in Gaza and demand a ceasefire to bring hostages home.
Activists have planned another protest for Saturday, as part of a growing movement calling for an end to the conflict.
Protesters moved through the city holding signs reading “Only peace will bring security” and chanting “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies”. They expressed fury at Israeli politicians including far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has advocated for the reoccupation of Gaza.
Mr Green described the march as “powerful” given efforts by Israeli authorities to shut down anti-war protests. “It was the largest mobilisation of our movement since this war started, calling for a ceasefire and Israeli-Palestinian peace,” he told i.
“People felt empowered to go out on the streets, to stand together as Jews and Palestinians, to call with a very clear voice for the end of this war and an end to the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.”
Cracks are emerging within the Israeli government over the handling of the war against Hamas, with war cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot, a former army chie, expressing doubts over the strategy for securing the hostages’ release.
He said only a ceasefire deal would ensure the return of more than 100 hostages who remain in Gaza. Suggestions troops could rescue all captives were “delusional”, he added.
“It needs to be said, bravely, that… it’s not possible to return the hostages, alive, in the near term, without a deal,” Mr Eisenkot told Israel’s Channel 12 on Thursday, while criticising “anyone trying to sell fantasies to the public”.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has vowed to annihilate Hamas after its fighters killed 1,200 people in southern Israel on 7 October and dragged 240 more back to Gaza as hostages.
Mr Eisenkot said talk of complete victory over the militant group was unrealistic. “Whoever speaks of absolute defeat is not speaking the truth,” he added. “That is why we should not tell stories. The situation already in the Gaza Strip is such that the goals of the war have not yet been achieved.”
His remarks were broadcast hours after Mr Netanyahu rejected calls by the US to scale back Israel’s assault on Gaza and take steps toward establishing a Palestinian state after the war.
Speaking during a televised news conference, the Israeli Prime Minister reiterated his longstanding opposition to a two-state solution, arguing that a Palestinian state would become a launchpad for attacks on Israel.
Israel “must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River”, he said, adding: “That collides with the idea of sovereignty. What can we do?”
Mr Green said the Prime Minister’s statements were “again showcasing his refusal to go to any kind of a solution.
“Those promises of our government that they will completely destroy Hamas are not realistic, and more and more people understand that Hamas is not going to be destroyed.
“Then it raises the question of, what are we doing, then? Why are we taking so many lives? Why are we putting the lives of our soldiers at risk? This war will bring us nothing but more misery, violence, death and blood.
“Yes we have the right to defend ourselves, there is no question about that, but is this way really defending us or giving us safety? The answer is no. The only way to achieve safety is by achieving peace.”
He pointed to how the only safe borders Israel has are with Egypt and Jordan, “two countries which we have signed peace agreements with”.
Standing Together is planning an antui-war rally in Haifa on Saturday – the first in the northern Israeli city since the conflict began – after police initially refused to grant a permit, citing security concerns.
Following a petition by the organisers to the High Court of Justice, judges said it was critical that the right of freedom of expression and protest be upheld, forcing the police to allow the demonstration to go ahead with a limit of 700 participants.
Mr Green acknowledged divisions in countries, including the UK, between support for Palestinians and Israelis, but said he held on to the hope that both sides can live together in peace.
Commenting on attitudes to the war that are held abroad, including in Britain, he said: “The people in Israel are not their government, as much as the people in Palestine are not Hamas.
“Jews and Palestinians want life, they want safety and a possibility to guard their families, and we need to remember that.”