Thousands march in Tel Aviv to demand ceasefire and hostage deal as talks in Cairo end without agreement

Thousands of people marched in Tel Aviv on Thursday to demand a ceasefire and hostage deal, as well as a revived Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The march was led by Standing Together, a joint Jewish-Palestinian peace movement in Israel. Alon Lee-Green, the group’s Jewish co-director, said the march, composed of both Jewish and Palestinian protestors, was “demanding to end the war, to end the occupation and to create an Israeli-Palestinian peace of freedom, equality and independence for all.” Sally Abed, one of the group’s Palestinian leaders, said on X (formerly Twitter) that, “[W]e are at a historical junction.” She went on to stress:

Only when we are all free and equal, can we all be safe and prosper. Amidst witnessing the most horrific, unfathomable human catastrophe unfolding, to serve messianic, fascist lunatics feeding on extremism everywhere else – it is our historic duty, to lead the alternative vision.

This is not the first mass demonstration in Israel demanding a ceasefire that would end Israel’s war in Gaza and release the remaining hostages held by Hamas. Families of the hostages have long been demanding the government make a deal with Hamas to release their loved ones, instead of continuing their offensive in Rafah. Earlier this week, families of the hostages blocked a major highway in Tel Aviv and protests erupted in Jerusalem calling for the government to strike an agreement that would return the hostages. They promised to continue demonstrating, with the daughter of hostage Keith Siegel saying, “We won’t be quiet until they [the hostages] are back.” Recent polls have suggested that a majority of Israelis, including Jewish Israelis, support prioritizing a hostage deal over an invasion of Rafah.

The demonstrations come as the prospects of a ceasefire agreement appear to be dimming. On Monday, after Israel ordered 100,000 people to evacuate Rafah, Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal put forward by Egypt. Israel previously approved a separate proposal but rejected this new proposal and started striking targets in Rafah, later moving tanks in to capture the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing with Egypt. Although Israel sent a negotiating delegation to Cairo, there was no progress on a deal and Egyptian officials said delegations for both Israel and Hamas left the city without an agreement. Hamas said in a statement on Friday that negotiations were “back to square one.”

Without a ceasefire and hostage agreement in place, Israel seems poised to further invade Rafah and expand its military operations there, raising alarm in the international community. More than one million people, approximately half of Gaza’s population, are currently sheltering in Rafah. Israel claims it needs to invade Rafah to dismantle Hamas operations and free the remaining hostages taken on the October 7 attacks, but the international community, including the US, has expressed alarm at the prospect of such an invasion, saying it would exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis. More than 110,00 Palestinians have already fled the area, but many say there is nowhere left to go. “There is no safe place at all,” said Nuzhat Jarjer, a Palestinian in Gaza whose family left Rafah on Wednesday.

Hamas took more than 200 people hostage in its October 7 attacks on Israel, which also killed more than 1,200 people—mostly civilians. International law experts have said that this, along with rocket attacks targeting civilian areas, constitutes war crimes. Families of October 7 victims filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging genocide, which led to the ICC Prosecutor’s first-ever visit to the region. 

Bringing the hostages home is one of Israel’s stated goals and has been a rallying cry for Israeli citizens and Jewish communities; however, critics say the Israeli government has deprioritized the hostages and their families, pointing to the lack of a ceasefire agreement and incidents like the IDF shooting three hostages in Gaza. In November, Hamas released more than 100 hostages as part of a six-day temporary ceasefire, which also saw Israel release more than 200 Palestinian prisoners. At the time, families of the hostages expressed concern about their wellbeing, with the niece of one hostage saying, “There is a great deal that we still don’t know, we don’t know what the physical or mental condition of these people is.” The International Committee of the Red Cross has not been granted access to the hostages, and Israeli officials have estimated that one-fifth of them have died.

Israel responded to the Hamas attacks with a brutal war on Gaza that has killed more than 34,000 people—mostly civilians. Israeli strikes have hit places like medical facilities and refugee camps, and human rights groups have accused Israel of war crimes. Nearly two million people, 85 percent of the territory’s population, have been displaced by the violence, and survivors face a collapsed medical system and imminent famine. Palestinian rights groups and President Mahmoud Abbas assert that Israel’s actions amount to genocide. Israel rejects this, but the International Court of Justice (ICJ) still ordered the country to “take all measures within its power” to prevent a “plausible” genocide in Gaza. It also issued a second order with additional emergency provisional measures to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.