‘The Time is Now’: Historic Rally Calls for a Hostage Deal and End to the War

Eliza Schloss
on July 3, 2024

J Street’s “Our Israel” project spotlights the amazing Israelis who are committed to advancing democracy, justice, equality and peace – shared values enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Above the packed Tel Aviv arena hung white banners inscribed with three demands. Each message – written in Hebrew, Arabic and English – spoke for the pleas of the thousands gathered in the seats below. “It’s time,” they read. “To reach a deal. To stop the war. To make peace.”

In the most significant display from the Israeli peace camp since Hamas’ October 7 attack, Israeli and Palestinian advocates streamed into the Menora Mivtachim Arena on Monday evening for a conference demanding a hostage deal and an end to Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza.

The rally’s organizers promised a historic turnout, and the public – angry with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s failure to return the hostages, heartbroken at the devastating military campaign in Gaza and frustrated by dim prospects for the safety of future generations – delivered in droves.

“It’s time,” said the protest leaders in their call to the public ahead of the event. “Now, amidst our anger, grief and pain, after long years of fear and violence, of struggle, of occupation and of terrorism. The war that broke out on October 7 must be the last war, and it can be: The war after which will come peace.”

The conference, which inspired American allies to hold rallies in cities across the US in support, featured prominent Israeli and Palestinian politicians, academics, activists and beyond as they shared their vision for a better future for both peoples.

Building a Revitalized Peace Camp

The crowd’s composition reflected many of the groups taking to Israel’s streets week after week. While demands have varied between calls for Netanyahu’s resignation, a hostage release deal and an end to the occupation, Monday’s conference brought them all under the same roof.

The audience included Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones to this war and the families of hostages in Gaza, adding their voices to the call that enough is enough.


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The rally’s speakers and sponsoring organizations – many of which are J Street’s partners on the ground – included Women Wage Peace, Standing Together, Peace Now, and Members of Knesset Gilad Kariv and Naama Lazimi.

Prior to October 7, the peace bloc’s revival resurfaced, ignited by the Netanyahu government’s anti-democratic overhaul. But Hamas’ heinous terror attack put the movement temporarily on pause, as the pain of the attack and ongoing hostage crisis took hold.

According to Josh Drill, protest organizer and a leader of the pro-democracy movement, it was time to reconvene in the wake of trauma.

“We have united and risen to break the spiral of silence that, over the past decades, has completely removed the word ‘peace’ from public discourse. Our vision is clear: security, equality and peace for all,” he told J Street.

And as evidenced in speech after speech, the organizers – and the thousands in attendance – refused to succumb to division and isolation, understanding that true peace will only come with a unified front fighting for the rights of both peoples.

As organizers told us, “This is not a conference; it’s the launch of a revitalized, impactful Israeli peace movement.”

In her speech, MK Lazimi reflected on the peace movement of the past – and the stalemate she refuses to let endure.

“They still want us to bow our heads, to stop imagining a different reality and surrender to round after round and war after war. To think the only option is either managing the conflict or annexation. To continue sending children to long fights, bloody and hopeless,” she said.

Born in the 1980s, Lazimi grew up believing peace was imminent. But the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin brought a blow to the movement. This war and the rule of Netanyahu cannot be another end to a left-wing movement, it must spark a new beginning, she said.

“An entire generation might grow up without the ability to imagine a different life. But they deserve more. My children, your children, all our children deserve hope. They deserve to believe in peace and in a life of security.”

Standing beside Lazimi, MK Kariv positioned the moment as the “struggle for the character of the State of Israel.”

It is a battle, he said, “between the vision of an exemplary society based on equality, social justice and tolerance, and the failed society that values land above human life.”

Not only is peace possible, Kariv said, but for the sake of future generations, it is the nation’s only choice. “Peace will decide whether boys and girls will smile between the river and the sea.”

Prominent Arab-Israeli MK Ayman Odeh delivered a similar message about the strength felt among the public before the turn of the century when right-wing, hawkish leadership took hold in Israel.

“It is our duty to rebuild that faith,” he said, fist in the air.

Offering a Vision for a Shared Future

In the wake of October 7, spaces for mourning in Israel and the US were largely isolated to grieving either Israelis or Palestinians – not both. But as the war continued to devastate Palestinian families in Gaza and the hostages remained in Hamas captivity, the room to address the shared humanity of Israelis and Palestinians grew.

This week’s gathering was the first formal declaration that the growing peace movement inside Israel must also stand for Palestinian freedoms for the sake of both peoples.

Maoz Inon, whose parents were killed by Hamas militants on their kibbutz on October 7, said that the anguish of his parents’ murder strengthened his desire for peace.

“To save myself, I embarked on a journey, on the path of peace and reconciliation. We create hope together by envisioning a common future, and working to make it a reality,” he said.

Across the stage was Dr. Rula Hardal, Palestinian peace activist and co-director of A Land for All, who echoed calls that demands for democracy and freedom must apply to everyone, or else, she said, “we’ll continue to tumble into the abyss.”

“I know that my liberation as a Palestinian will also be your liberation, the Israelis, because our lives depend on each other,” Dr. Hardal said, to thunderous applause.

Speeches also came with a solemn reminder about the forces and ideas outside the arena working to complicate the goals of a hostage deal and end to the war.

Israeli author and historian Yuval Noah Harari’s speech came with a message that Israelis and Palestinians must stop living in denial of each other’s legitimacy, and not only recognize each other’s fears but their rights to self-determination.

“Too many of us refuse to acknowledge this simple fact that both peoples live on this land, that both have a deep historical and spiritual connection to this place and that both have a right to exist here,” he said.

Looking toward the future, Drill told J Street that this week’s conference marks just the beginning for the movement.

“The peace camp will continue to broaden our coalition and engage new partners, including those previously overlooked. United for a shared future, we are committed to spreading our vision and mobilizing society towards peace,” he said.

“At this dark hour, it is time to act. Our destiny is in our hands. It is up to us to end the cycle of bloodshed once and for all.”