Tel Aviv - About 10 000 Israelis protested on Thursday in a Tel Aviv square against what they see as the failure of a five-week Gaza war to decisively halt rocket and mortar fire at southern towns bordering on the Palestinian coastal territory.
Many demonstrators were bused in from parts of Israel hardest hit by rocket barrages in the recent fighting, joined by supporters in the Israeli business hub that also came under rocket fire on a daily basis in the fighting since July 8.
Two successive truces since Monday, expected to last through August 19, have largely quieted the guns, after 1 945 Palestinians, most of them civilians, 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel were killed.
But demonstrators were wary of seeing more hostilities erupt once the ceasefire ends and many felt the Israeli military should destroy the rocket arsenals of Hamas militants who dominate Gaza.
Some complained of feeling betrayed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, which has pledged that the war would restore calm to southern Israel, in addition to destroying underground tunnels seen as launching pads for future attacks.
No one criticised Netanyahu personally and he was thanked, along with the military, for taking on Hamas in the latest hostilities. But the demonstration was still the largest public display of criticism of Israel's government since the hostilities began.
“We're tired of promises,” Alon Davidi, mayor of Sderot, one of the more rocket-battered Gaza border towns, intoned from a flag-decked podium in Tel Aviv's main city square named for Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister assassinated there in 1995 by a far-right Israeli opposed to peace moves.
“We fear the agreements that may result in compromise at our expense, and our lives are not cheap, we're not ready to accept a continued hail of deadly fire from Gaza,” Davidi said.
“This situation must finally be brought to resolution, and we cannot just let some terrorist group make us dance to their music. In a proper country the army protects its citizens and that's just what Israel must let them do,” Davidi said.
Protester Haim Dahan, 39, a father of four from a collective farm near Sderot, applauded Davidi along with thousands of others and told a reporter he thought Israel had to destroy Hamas, which rejects Israel's right to exist.
“We feel as though there may be a ceasefire now, but wait another year and the situation will be worse than it was when the war began,” Dahan said.
“We must crush them. Hamas must not be allowed to decide whether my family may sleep peacefully at night.”
In an odd twist that seemed to reflect the confused emotions generated by the war, a group of left-wing Israelis opposed to Netanyahu's government joined the protest as a show of solidarity with countrymen under attack.
“They are rightly demanding quiet, and it's ours and the government's job to seek a way to achieve that,” Tamar Zandberg, lawmaker with the leftist Meretz party, said of the protesters.
“We've tried the path of violence a number of times,” she added. “It looks like what we have tried hasn't worked, so the time has come to change direction,” she said, urging a return to peace talks for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. - Reuters