The Arab Spring was commonly said to have crashed the Fear Barrier: they knew they hated their regimes, but had been terrified to speak out. In Israel, members of the dominant Hebrew sector have lived in blinkers rather than in fear. When 150,000 marched last week, all across the country, Israel crashed its Bullshit Barrier. Maybe they haven’t all seen the light and abandoned Zionism. Many still speak of returning the country to its “better” past, which of course is itself part of the bullshit.
But minds on the march can more easily expand and take in new vistas.
What had started as a protest about high rents and housing costs has morphed into a bigger, broader demand for “social justice”, and they didn’t just mean among Israel’s Jews. Issues of race and the treatment of migrant workers and asylum seekers (many fleeing the bloodshed in Sudan) soon led to a joining of forces with Palestinians long denied the right to build. As one headline had it, Arab sector joined the protest — ”We have no land to build on”
The police helped clarify these issues when they made dawn raids on the mixed Lewinsky camp, moving from tent to tent and removing any dark-skinned occupants they found.
Participants haven’t minced their words, which seem grandly aware that they are potentially making history. “We are broadcasting Revolution. We want a better Israel. We want Israel to be lived with a sense of justice, a State of love among all its citizens. Those of Beersheba and those from Raanana. These from Hebron and Tel Aviv. Jews and Arabs.”
One spoke of the “two weeks of release and euphoria, feeling like the sigh of relief of someone carrying a heavy bag on his back that he forgot he was there. Suddenly, the bag is gone, and new blood floods the system. There is electricity in the air.You can not fool us. You can not turn us. You cannot take us for a ride. It’s time for politicians to move aside, because we have taken the stage. We took back the right to speak, and we do not account to anyone. Our fuel is smouldering anger, and camaraderie. We have pushed the years of powerlessness and apathy. We woke up two weeks ago and what was, is no longer. We came to change the social order not to compromise for less.”
A homeless single mother says “I’m here because I have no alternative. This is the tent of no choice. I ask for equal rights irrespective of degree, religion and nationality.”
Everyone is getting in on the act. On the 28th, a demonstration of parents produced “the biggest stroller traffic jam in history”. Doctors have marched. The trade union leaders belatedly joined in. The Judah Lions football club has called on all fans to join “the ongoing existential struggle” on a march from its ground in south Tel Aviv to the Rothschild Boulevard tent encampment in the city centre. They are inviting all fans, of whatever clubs, to bring their scarves and colours to demand “far-reaching measures in the field of affordable housing including social justice for everyone”. Teachers are expected en masse later this week, protesting privatisation of the education system. Power Workers are said to be coming to a “tent near you”.
Leading activists acknowledge the confidence and inspiration that have come from the Arab risings, Spain and Greece. One thing they’ve learned is to foster inclusion. Though students have been offered attractive concessions, they refuse to break ranks. They are now talking about a cross-country march of parents and children, to include settler stronghold of Ariel, the mixed town of Haifa and the Arab enclave of Nazareth. And teams of people are going out to do outreach “on the periphery”, calling on workers in different sectors to join them: government workers already went on a one-day strike on Monday 1st.
Another organiser Assaf Levy breathlessly describes a scene that spells a radical ferment of ideas: “In this tent Branch Technion, in that tent — the staff page, in that tent — the official page of the housing struggle, a state of emergency, take a tent and take a stand, Gush Shalom, Hadash in this tent — front of the Camera, in that tent — the tent of Jerusalem, in this tent — tent blocks, channel 2 broadcast live, protest encampment Jaffa.” (Thanks to Google Garble for the translation…)
In the online magazine +972, Noam Sheizaf wrote:
“Last week, my colleagues Joseph Dana and Mairav Zonszein reported about the harsh treatment some of protesters got from the hand of the police following the previous social justice rally in Tel Aviv. While I don’t ignore the importance of such incidents, they might make one miss the essence of the tent protest.
“Unlike in Syria or Libya, where dictators slaughter their own citizens by the hundreds, it was never oppression that held the social order in Israel together, as far as the Jewish society was concerned. It was indoctrination — a dominant ideology, to use a term preferred by critical theorists. And it was this cultural order that was dented in this round of protests. For the first time, a major part of the Jewish middle class — it’s too early to estimate how large is this group — recognized their problem not with other Israelis, or with the Arabs, or with a certain politician, but with the entire social order. With the entire system. In this sense, it’s a unique event in Israel’s history.
“This is why this protest has such tremendous potential. This is also the reason that we shouldn’t just watch for the immediate political fallout — I don’t think we will see the government fall any time soon — but for the long term consequences, the undercurrent, which is sure to arrive.”
On Facebook, there was this exchange between Frank Kahn and One Democracy blogger Alex Pushkin:
Frank Kahn posted: Puke! 150,000 Zionists demonstrating for “social justice” (lower prices) while the ethnic cleansing of Palestine continues unabated. Palestinian children are imprisoned for Resistance. Villages like Nabi Saleh are gassed. The Apartheid Wall expands & on & on. And if the current “Prime Minister” goes do you believe that the replacement will be any different?
Alex Pushkin responded: Personally, I hold that the only outcome that offers justice to Palestine is to re-make the whole country into one democracy. So I ask myself how do we get there? How will Israelis agree to this?
This makes me watch very carefully social divisions and movements in Israel: between religious and secular; the people who are not ideological zionists against the settlers; the Mizrahi people whose families once lived side by side with Muslims and the European zionists; etc.
To see 150,000 people out on the streets and angry with the whole company of existing politicians from “left” to “right” and talking about social justice, and starting to make the connections between their tents and those of El Arakib and east Jerusalem, and some of them doing joint demonstrations with Arab Palestinians in Nazereth, and announcing meetings in both Hebrew and Arabic, all this says that the crust of Israeli self-denial could break up and people can start asking questions they never asked before.
The issue is not whether we morally approve of, or love or hate, people who call for social justice but have done nothing for Palestine. The issue is, what will come out of this and will the tiny few activists for Palestine solidarity come of this bigger and stronger and with a wider audience?
« Israel’s protests Part 1, a tragic wasted chance
Never Again for Anyone »