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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Anger and protests shadow Israel’s Memorial Day

By Patrick Kingsley and Myra Noveck

Israel’s Memorial Day is normally one of the most somber on the country’s calendar, a date when Israelis put aside their differences to grieve fellow citizens killed in war or terrorist attacks.

But as Israelis gathered across the country Monday for the first national day of mourning since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks, protesters disrupted several ceremonies by heckling government ministers. Their interventions underscored how feelings of wartime unity have given way to deep disputes over the war in the Gaza Strip, the fate of hostages taken Oct. 7 and domestic politics.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heckled by critics as he attended a memorial at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the site of Israel’s national cemetery. One person was heard shouting, “Garbage.” Another said, “You took my children.”

At a ceremony in Ashdod, in southern Israel, bystanders shouted at the national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, calling him a “criminal,” before his supporters tried to drown them out.

Such disruptions have precedent. Protesters taunted Ben-Gvir and other ministers last year, before the war began, when anger over the government’s efforts to overhaul the judicial system were the most prominent source of social division.

This year’s protests reflected growing anguish among parts of the population about the way Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government has handled the war. While Israeli society closed ranks immediately after the Hamas-led attack and the Israeli military offensive in Gaza that followed, critics increasingly blame Netanyahu for failing to prevent the atrocities Oct. 7. Israeli authorities say that roughly 1,200 people were killed and some 240 others abducted in the attack.

While the government has managed to secure the release of more than 100 hostages, at least half are dead or are still in captivity. Many of their loved ones want the government to agree to an immediate cease-fire with Hamas that would allow for the remaining captives to be released, even it means leaving Hamas in control of parts of Gaza.

A poll conducted this month by the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based research group, suggests that a majority of Israelis see a hostage deal as a priority over a military operation in Rafah. Israel calls the city, where more than 1 million Palestinians had sought shelter from fighting elsewhere, Hamas’ last major stronghold in Gaza.

But Israel and Hamas have not agreed to such a deal despite months of mediation. And Netanyahu has insisted that Israeli forces will invade Rafah amid threats by his far-right coalition partners — including Ben-Gvir — that they will bring down the government if the war ends without the total defeat of Hamas.

Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony in Holon, in central Israel, hecklers shouted at Miri Regev, the transport minister, and called on her to resign. One asked: “What about the hostages?”

As Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, attended a ceremony in Tel Aviv, a protester held up a sign that said: “Their blood is on your hands.”

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