Israelis march for hostages as Netanyahu faces growing criticism at home and abroad

While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to wipe out Hamas, he is facing increasing criticism abroad for the thousands of civilians killed in Gaza. 

It comes as commandos continue to search Gaza’s embattled Al-Shifa Hospital, which Israel claims Hamas was using as a command centre. The Israeli military said on Thursday it uncovered a Hamas tunnel shaft and a vehicle with weapons at the hospital — the largest in the Gaza Strip, providing video and photos of the discovery.

Israel is not only facing more international pressure over the human cost of the war but friction with its closest ally, the United States, about what happens after the country wraps up its offensive.

The popularity of Israel’s longest-serving leader also appears to be sinking at home, in part due to the Netanyahu government’s failure to prevent the Oct. 7 attack when Hamas fighters and other militants killed 1,200 people and took around 240 hostages. 

“I think there is a lot of support for the operation right now [in Israel], stemming from the massacre,” said Ori Givati, advocacy director for Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization comprised of military veterans who want to end the control over Gaza and the country’s occupied territories. 

“The feeling of frustration, of trauma, of hate — the need for revenge is so, so strong right now, but all of this doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want in Gaza.”

While Israel’s government insists it is taking steps to protect civilians, including dropping leaflets over Gaza to warn residents about impending strikes, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights warned there has been a breakdown of the “most basic respect for humane values.”

“The killing of so many civilians cannot be dismissed as collateral damage,” said Volker Turk, during a briefing in Geneva on Thursday.

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According to the latest figures from Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry, deemed reliable by the UN but not verified by CBC News, more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 7, with about 40 per cent of them being children — although that number hasn’t been updated in several days during the recent escalation in fighting, and does not distinguish between militants and civilians.

On Thursday, a group of UN experts said there had been “grave violations” committed by Israel during its Gaza offensive that “point to a genocide in the making” against the Palestinian people. 

The group continued to say they were profoundly concerned about the support of “certain governments for Israel’s strategy of warfare.”

Who will control Gaza?

While the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for extended humanitarian pauses and immediate release of Israeli hostages, the United Kingdom and United States abstained from voting, along with Russia. 

In a statement to reporters along the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, U.S. President Joe Biden defended his decision not to push for a ceasefire in Gaza, saying Hamas would go on to “slaughter Israelis” again. 

Shalom Ben Hanan, who worked for more than two decades with the Israeli Security Agency, stands in stairwell.
Former Shin Bet official Shalom Ben Hanan says he doesn’t think a two-state solution will work to resolve the Gaza conflict despite calls from allies like the United States. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

He offered tacit support for what Israel calls its “precise and targeted” operation inside the Al-Shifa Hospital, by saying the military didn’t go in with a large number of troops. Biden did, however, reiterate that he thinks it would be a “big mistake” for Israel to occupy Gaza once its military offensive is over. 

Israeli officials have spoken about its need to maintain control of Gaza afterwards, including Netanyahu who told ABC News earlier this week that Israel would maintain security over the enclave for an “indefinite period.”

In my mind, then we are going to have a conflict with the United States and the other international community,” said Shalom Ben Hanan, who worked for more than two decades with Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency. 

Hanan spoke to CBC News on Sunday at his home in Gan Yavne, where the sound of explosions from Gaza could be heard in the distance. 

He says he doesn’t think a two-state solution would work at the current time and says Israel cannot allow “terrorist capabilities” to be rebuilt once Israel has destroyed them. 

Noa Pora stands in front of Israelis marching to Jerusalem to call for more action on the safe return of Israeli hostages from Gaza.
Noa Porat came out to show her support for the hundreds who are marching to Jerusalem. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

As far as Israel’s offensive, Hanan says the country needs to obey international law, but he believes it would be a mistake to bend to growing global concern over what’s happening in Gaza. 

“With all due respect to international pressure, Israel has suffered… a great massacre,” he said. “If we want to rebuild our deterrence, we must consider only Israeli interests.”

‘A lot of people … are very angry’

Hanan says he believes most of the population supports the size and scale of Israel’s military action, but there are two camps of thought when it comes to the prime minister: those who think criticism should be set aside while Israel is at war, and those who think the country’s senior leadership needs to be replaced now. 

Some of the hostages’ relatives, along with their supporters, are taking part in a five-day march to demand the government do more to secure the release of their loved ones. 

The march started in Tel Aviv Tuesday and will end in Jerusalem outside of Netanyahu’s house on Saturday. 

Noa Porat came out to support the few hundred marching Thursday afternoon, and says while the country is united now she believes there will be a big political debate and likely change after the crisis is over.

“A lot of people, including myself, are very angry,” she said. 

But her anger extends beyond her own government to an international community, which she feels has “turned against” Israel. 

“No one wants to see collateral damage. No one wants to see people killed,” said Porat. 

“I keep asking the world, if you were Israel what do you think we should do? Shouldn’t we protect ourselves as citizens?”

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