Protesters disrupt Israeli Memorial Day events over the war raging in Gaza

Israelis gathered across the country on Monday for the first day of national mourning since the October 7 Hamas-led attacks, with protesters disrupting several ceremonies as they called on government ministers to do more to secure the hostages' release .

Israel's Memorial Day is normally one of the darkest on the country's calendar, a date when Israelis put aside their differences to mourn fellow citizens killed in war or terrorist attacks. But Monday's protests underlined how wartime feelings of unity have given way to deep disputes over the war in the Gaza Strip, the fate of hostages taken on October 7 and domestic politics.

Critics lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he attended a memorial on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, the site of Israel's national cemetery. A person was heard shouting: “Rubbish”. Another said: “You took my children.”

At a ceremony in Ashdod, on the Mediterranean coast, onlookers shouted at National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, calling him a “criminal”, before his supporters tried to drown them.

Although the government managed to secure the release of more than 100 hostages taken by Hamas during the attacks, at least half of the approximately 240 people taken were dead or still held captive. Many of their loved ones want the government to agree to an immediate ceasefire with Hamas that allows the release of the remaining prisoners, even if it means leaving Hamas in control of some parts of Gaza.

The disruptions have precedent. Protesters mocked Ben-Gvir and other ministers last year, before the war began, when anger over the government's efforts to overhaul the justice system was the main source of social division.

This year's protests reflect growing anguish among some of the population over the way the right-wing ruling coalition led by Netanyahu has handled the war, causing enormous casualties and destruction.

Netanyahu has repeatedly promised total victory over Hamas. But fighting in the Gaza Strip in recent days has underlined the idea that Hamas militants are still a force in the territory and could remain so for a long time to come. The pattern that has emerged in the war is that, after pitched battles, the Israeli army claims to have taken control of an area and then moves on, only for Hamas fighters to return and rebuild their forces.

Israeli airstrikes rocked the northern and southern ends of the territory on Monday, with the Israeli army saying it had hit more than 120 targets in the past 24 hours. Ground troops also attacked Hamas fighters in several locations, the Israeli military said. In the midst of the fighting, tens of thousands of fleeing civilians continued their desperate search for safety.

The fighting appeared to be heaviest in Gaza City, Beit Lahia and Jabaliya in northern Gaza, and in Rafah, the southern city where more than a million Palestinians had fled to try to escape the Israeli military offensive further north. In recent days, according to the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of people have left Rafah.

Hamas said on Monday it had fired mortars at Israeli soldiers near the Rafah crossing, which connects Gaza to Egypt and has been closed since Israel seized it last week.

A U.N. spokesperson said Monday that a U.N. staff member was killed Monday morning when a U.N. vehicle was hit on the way to Rafah hospital. Around 200 UN employees have been killed in the conflict.

Israeli society closed ranks behind the government and army immediately after the Hamas-led October 7 attack. But critics increasingly accuse Netanyahu of failing to prevent the attacks, which Israeli authorities say killed around 1,200 people, and of prolonging the war without winning. the return of the hostages.

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. Israeli officials call the city the last major Hamas stronghold in Gaza, with battalions of fighters hidden there, but U.S. officials say the group's leaders in the territory are hiding in the town of Khan Younis, not Rafah.

Israel and Hamas have not reached an agreement on the ceasefire and the release of the hostages, despite months of mediation. And Netanyahu has insisted that Israeli forces will invade Rafah, with or without such a deal, amid threats from his far-right coalition partners to topple the government if the war ends without the total defeat of Hamas.

At a Memorial Day ceremony in Holon, central Israel, on Monday, hecklers shouted at Miri Regev, the transportation minister, demanding she 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 read: “Their blood is on your hands.”

On Sunday evening, Israeli peace activists broadcast their annual joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony, with parallel events in London, New York and Los Angeles.

The ceremony is organized by Combatants for Peace and Parents Circle-Families Forum, two peacebuilding organizations, and seeks to recognize not only Israeli pain, but also the toll of Palestinian suffering over the decades.

The ceremony, which has been held annually since 2006, was pre-recorded this year to avoid the possibility of disruption by protesters. It contained speeches, songs, a poem about peace, and a video showing children in Israel and the occupied West Bank talking about the effects of war.

Palestinians in the West Bank did not attend in person, as Israel stopped allowing many Palestinians to work in Israel after the October 7 attacks. There were no direct contributions even from the Gaza speakers.

More than 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza during Israel's military campaign to defeat Hamas, mostly children and women, local health officials say. Nearly everyone in Gaza has been displaced from their homes amid a food crisis that aid workers say has been largely caused by Israeli restrictions on aid deliveries to the enclave.

The peace groups' ceremony, which was screened in more than 200 locations in Israel, reflects the diversity and complexity of views on war within Israeli society. Several speakers discussed their hope for an end to generations of bloodshed and for peace.

Ghadir Hani read a contribution from a woman from Gaza, whose name was given only as Najla, who described how she had lost 20 family members in the war, including her brother, a father of two, who she said had been killed while he went looking for food for his parents.

“They killed him as he walked down the street without posing any threat,” Ms. Hani read. “The death machine is still ready to kill,” she added. “But I know that on the other side there are many people who believe in peace.”

Liam Stack AND Lauren Leatherby contributed to the reporting.

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