Saturday, August 27, 2011

Who needs a ceasefire anyway?

A bit of the past week's history: after several days of escalated fighting on the Gaza Strip border, a ceasefire was declared. The Government of Israel approved it after a meeting of the "Forum of Eight" lasting deep into the night, and next morning the press was told that "The State of Israel formulated a policy of examining the situation on the ground and noting whether or not the shooting continues, and the IDF shall conduct its operations accordingly".

On the next day the behavior of the Gaza Palestinians was thoroughly examined, and - wonder of wonders - the ceasefire was adhered to, the shooting of rockets did stop, residents of the South began to leave the air raid shelters, and at the Ashkelon National Park began preparations for the 2011 Sea Breeze Festival, a large scale Israeli Music outdoor event which the people of the city and the entire region have long been looking forward to.

But a few hours before the festival was to take place, somebody – in the  government or army or security services – took the decision to send the Air Force to perform a "liquidation" in the Gaza Strip. The assassination was carried out on schedule, the car traveling on the Gaza Strip's main highway was destroyed and its passenger killed on the spot.  A smooth and precise implementation, exactly as planned. The citizens of Israel were informed that it had been a dangerous terrorist and that the action had been necessary - and who can independently monitor and judge the Security Services of the State of Israel, in exercising their authority to issue and implement death sentences?

So, there was no question of an open air music festival, and the sound of singers was replaced by air raid alarms and loudspeakers stridently announcing "Code Red! Code Red!". Fortunately, during the days of renewed escalation nobody was killed (not on the Israeli side, that is). The case of an Israeli baby who was lightly wounded by the shrapnel of a Palestinian missile received considerable publicity in our media. Only  those who follow the Palestinian media heard of two Palestinian children aged two, killed at two different locations in Israeli Air Force bombings.

"The liquidation of one militant, one out of the thousands roaming Gaza, was unnecessary," said yesterday Yehiel Lasry, Mayor of Ashdod – one of the cities which got back into the line of fire as a direct result of that liquidation (Ma'ariv, August 26, 2011).

Last night, another ceasefire on the Gaza border went into effect. Will it last, this time? And if not, who will be responsible for breaching it this time? And how does this relate to the social protest, which is about to resume tonight at full force, with demonstrations scheduled simultaneously at five places? And with Noam Shalit, father of the famous captive soldier, who tonight joins with the social protesters to call for a prisoner swap which is the only way to bring home his son Gil'ad?

Yechiel Zohar, Mayor of Netivot - another of the southern communities entering the line of fire at every new Gaza border flare-up - called upon the government to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, and reach a  long-term stable peace which would give breathing space to residents of the Negev. But who in the government is going to pay attention to this voice from the Negev, in the commotion of the September events which are speedily coming upon us?


Friday, August 19, 2011

A changed agenda?

Someone in the wild Sinai peninsula took a decision and sent a big, well equipped squad to infiltrate across the border into the Israeli Negev, attack buses and cars and engage in running battles with soldiers and  shoot and kill and kill indiscriminately. And presto, in one minute the agenda changed and the public mood changed into a state of emergency and war at the gate and in all communications media there was no more talk of social protests, nothing but terrorism and army and security issues.

It had been a difficult month for Prime Minister Netanyahu – truly, a very hard month. A Prime Minister under siege, caught in a bind. Tent encampments and more  tent encampments sprouting up all over the country, demonstrations and protests and more demonstrations. The demands for affordable housing and for Social Justice and for a Welfare State occupy the center stage, and the Free Market economics which Netanyahu had worked so hard to foster since he was Finance Minister are suddenly cast into doubt. What did he not try? He used sticks and he used carrots, he tried to entice the protesters with committees and benefits and rabbits drawn from the hat and he tried to castigate them as Leftists and pampered sushi-eaters, and they went on to protest and demonstrate and extend ever further the tent encampments and get their rallies to the peak of three hundred thousands in Tel Aviv. Just yesterday morning, the protesters arrived at the home of Eyal Gabbai, Nethanyahu's Chef de Bureau, and he spoke forthrightly and made it clear to them that the Free Market system will not change, and there will be no taxation on the rich and there will be no Welfare State in Israel. And these cheeky youths did not accept these clear clarifications from their government, and just announced that they will increase ever more their protests and demonstrations.

How, how to change the focus and move the public agenda in a different direction? Perhaps finally September will come and the Palestinians will go to the UN and demand to have their state and thus help to distract public opinion in Israel? But the big show at the UN is only due on September 20, how to get through another month until then? Besides, would even that change the tendency of public opinion? What if the Palestinians hold mass demonstrations in late September, without any violence, and demand to have some Social Justice, to be free in their country and no longer live under occupation – would this be enough to change the agenda? It might even get a bit of sympathy among Israelis.

But not all is lost, and relief for the harassed Netanyahu came from the usual quarter, out of the deserts of Sinai came the dramatic initiative to change the Israeli public agenda. And it so happened that Israel's fine security services had long since prepared a plan to liquidate Gazan leaders which just needed to be put into operation, and now put into operation it was forthwith, and all at once Israel's Air Force took off for  Rafah and made the hit, an instant and huge success, and immediately afterwards could the Prime Minister make a full-blooded patriotic Address to the Nation people over all channels and offer congratulations to the brave soldiers and the valiant pilots and the diligent security operatives and deliver a stern warning to the Palestinians and offer condolences to the bereaved and wish the injured a speedy recovery and how great it felt at last to make a long speech without a single word about social problems, just like in the good old days. And of course, as soon as Gaza was hit, Israelis all over the South knew that the time has come to seek shelter and expect the worst, and indeed the Qassam and Grad rockets were not slow in coming, naturally prompting the Air Force to counter-attack on more Gaza targets and bring on more missiles on Israel the escalation is mutually escalating - and who would now dare demand a cut the in the defense budget in order to promote social causes?

But what the social protest activists do now in their tent encampments? Would they quietly yield to the changed agenda and meekly disappear from the scene? If that's what Netanyahu is counting on, he should think again.

I would like to give the floor to Social Protest activits, with a selection of messages posted in the past twenty-four hours on the Offiical Housing Protest Facebook Page.

Voices from the grassroots field

Yigal Cohen: We will not let terrorism beat us!

Ittai Hertzberg: I just read this piece of news:
Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara calls upon demonstrators to dismantle their tents and call off their protest, in solidarity with the wounded in the attack, as "it's time to be united in the struggle against terrorism".
Ayoub Kara, don’t you have another appointment scheduled with neo-Nazis in Austria?
Arnon Shaked: How sad, Bibi and his government got a terrorist  attack just in the nick of time. There is only needed a small military operation to make him happy. That's what they think about human life, it's like a game to them.

Yossi Levy: This protest cannot stop, this protest will not stop. We must continue to protest, we must continue to protest. This protest will not stop! [modeled on a well-known Israeli song].

Friends, do not have to bow down low, we can prove that we can go on. Express our respect for the victims, with quiet rallies, go on  going out to  protest. Let the wounded heal and recover and rise up from their beds as patients in a better health system!
Let the soldiers on discharge find a better higher education system.
And a better Israel for all citizens.
Continue! Continue!

Tamar Aviyah: We undertake to continue the protest even if military action starts. Protests throughout the country.

Avi Hevroni: Finally, we will have to learn to go on demonstrating even after such events. There is no choice. It can not be stopped. This may sound insensitive but it's not. There is no other way you can keep this issue alive in a country where there is no certainty of tranquility and security.
Avishai E. Edenburg: Now is perhaps the most crucial moment for this movement. We all had this cynical thought, that we would fold everything down and go home like good children, when security issues come to the fore. No. We will not fold down, not until our needs are seriously addressed.
Shlomo Ohana: Friends, let's have a moment of silence for the Housing Protest. It was nice while it lasted, but now it's over.

Bikosh Bik: Well, Shlomo, speak for yourself. If you feel OK with the situation as it is, good for you... But you can't decide for others what is good for them and what they will do or not do.
Eshkar Eldan Cohen: Continue the protest, full steam ahead!
What happened today is a tragedy for the families of those killed and wounded. But it also a tragedy when men and women die from illness because of difficulty in purchasing drugs, or when people's  health is damaged because they could not buy proper food, and when disabled people lack what they urgently need, and when people are discharged from hospital prematurely due to shortage of beds in rehabilitation, and when children go to school when  their parents could not afford to buy textbooks, when people die because there were no beds free in Intensive Care – all these are tragedies. The military and government failure in their role to defend the border leads to tragedy. Also their failure to take care of daily needs. So the protest must go on, for those who manage to survive and want to go on living.
Meir Ben-Or: Mr. Prime Minister:
After the attack in the south, probably you will probably send out call-up orders also to the leftists who live in tents and eat sushi, just as you will send them the rightists and the settlers. You will sent us into action in Gaza which would  probably be followed by overall war, and who knows where it would end. I just ask you, Mr. Netanyahu, for one small favor. Just remember us who will go away to fight for you and for Sarah and for all your distinguished colleagues, and to eat dust (instead of sushi). Of course, if we do not come back from this war, then all bets are off and you are exempt from all obligations...

Ashkar Alden Cohen: Do not go to this delirious war. You do not have to!

Neora Barak: Do not stop the protest in any situation. We are not indifferent.  We are consistent and determined, we have patience and we will see who blinks!
Human pain and identification with the families of the victims does not mean giving up the momentum already created. We must not create a dangerous precedent of stopping the demand for social justice. Like it did not contradict the demand for release of Gilead Shalit. Suddenly the government sent a negotiator to Egypt to get him. That was only because the protests put some pepper up their ass.
We should not give up, there is a silent majority looking up with hope at this protest. Do not forget this!

 Elad Shechter: The government wants protest forgotten. They asked the Jerusalem encampment to cancel the demonstrations (which shows how much the government thinks only of its own interests ). So it is important to manifest our presence and show that with all the sorrow and the pain, citizens are struggling also to live in a better country!

Not only does the protest not divide the people - it unites them for the first time in decades. The tents strengthen us against enemies from outside as well as inside. There is no contradiction between defending the country and improving it: before '48 we were able to struggle to formulate an ideology and therefore there is no reason we can't do it today. This is our War of Independence.
If the protest organizers cancel the scheduled actions, we would go on without them!     

Sivan Wolchinsky: That's right! In Kiryat Shmona there will be a march ending with a rally. Certainly one thing does not come at the expense of the other. You have to remember that in the aftermath of such terrorist attacks the state often defaults on its responsibility to provide aid to the wounded, to give them benefits for disability (physical and mental…). Social Security payments could be very hard for them to get, for no justified reason! This is the real test – now more than ever, get to the streets!

Charles Arthur James: I would like to propose a "middle of the road" solution. Both mourning and a protest. On Saturday night we will not hold mass demonstrations. Events will take place in tents, circles of study, lighting candles in memory of those killed and writing letters of support to the wounded, holding hands and creating a human chain along Rothschild Boulevard, and more activities like this. In this we will show that we are united in pain, but do not let terrorism destroy our struggle for a better quality of life here.
Eyal Ap: The occupation and the settlements are part of what creates such situations, in which we cannot just go on with "a normal protest" that does not touch upon the conflict. That's why we must demand an end to conflict, demand true security which only peace can give.

Bikosh Bik: Eyal, this is not necessarily .. It is also possible to adopt a protest policy that says that the social and economic situation is no less important than the security situation ... without going into the unresolved debate about the conflict.
Matan Bar: We all feel pain and grieving over the deaths of innocents. Our outcry will be the continuation of the protest, despite all. For us, for the dead, and for the mourners. Another "Cast Lead" operation in Gaza? Again an enshrining of the khaki uniforms? Talking of security and silencing the voices on education, equality, welfare? We grieve for and and honor the victims, but we also continue the protest whose hope they also shared. Will will not cooperate with the war drive of Bibi - Barak - Lieberman! We will not run again to kill and die in Gaza under the outworn banner of 'state security'. We will walk in silence at the rally Saturday night, we will remember the dead, and will continue to press our demands upon the ministers and the prime minister!

The protest organizers announce:

We march in silence - the pain of all, the protest of all

On Saturday, August 20 at 9:00 pm, we all march together with the entire Israeli people, from Habima Square to the Charles Clore Garden. It would be a peaceful march with torches and candles, designed to remind the Prime Minister that even in these difficult times, he is still responsible for welfare and health just as he is responsible for security. When the march gets to its destination in the Charles Clore Garden on the Tel Aviv coast, we will all sit on the grass in wide circles or intimate discussion, talk, discuss, argue and  sing – everything quietly, in silent respect for and solidarity with the victims of the criminal terrorist attacks.

This is the pain of all, this is the protest of all of us.

Quietly, but firmly. Because the people which demonstrates is the same people which is hit by the fire of our enemies. And their determined demand for a deep change in the order of economic priorities and for comprehensive social justice does not at all come at the expense of fighting terrorism - on the contrary. A people whose members are responsible for each other, struggle together for the future and strength of the State of Israel, are a strong people who can stand up to all their enemies.

Together with in the circles, honoring us with their presence, will be the best of Israel's artists, their voice devoid of the help of microphones, their guitars not connected to any amplifier. They will sing with us in pain and hope, for all of us have no other country - except the State of Israel.

Millie Duluoz: There is no such thing as a silent protest.

Ori Milstein: That's exactly what they want. Be quiet. We're good kids. God forbid that we should demand defense budget cuts. A silent protest is an oxymoron. Like was said here before, there is no need to apologize, no need to reduce our force.
I'm personally going to cry out when I get there. Otherwise it will simply be a  surrender, a nail in the protest's coffin. If they manage to silence us now, what would happen if riots break out in September?

Hila V Goldstein: Dear firebrands! People were killed today. In the South there is a kind of war. A silent protest is the best now.

Bar Hefetz: It should not be silent and not be in Tel Aviv, it's time to express social solidarity, go the Gaza border communities and cry out that we're not afraid, not afraid of Hamas, and also not afraid of this evil government which is just trying to scare us and silence us. No, don’t be silent!
David Bochris: We undertake to continue the protest even if military operations begin. Protest all over the country!

Ido Daniel: TV stopped talking about the incident and broadcast a miserable  program on cooking ..... And the football games have a moment of silence and the players put on a black band to honor the dead, and then go on playing...  Power is in the continuity, must show that we are continuing!

Gil Orlev: I understand all who are angry that it is to be a silent rally (why quiet? One terrorist attack. Life goes on, including all the junk programs on TV). I want to say on record that I much more sympathize with you than with the other side to the debate. Yet we must not ignore all the people who feel uncomfortable with a shouting rally when such things happen. Do not argue with feelings. There are situations where it is impossible to please everybody. I think the organizers deserve credit for trying to think of everybody and find a creative solution. There is room for two voices. We have a silent action, demanding peace and social justice.

Einat Doz'ovni: I have the experience of a quiet walk with only 200 people, which had a mesmerizing intensity. There is no need to shout in order to be heard.

Star Rajuan: I live in Gan Yavne, I was woken up twice this night by the sound of sirens. I they to keep optimistic also under air raid alarms, I hope you do too.  We will continue to cry out - loudly or silently, each in their own way. To demand both justice and peace.       
Peace will mean that fewer people would be killed. And justice will mean that fewer people will die because they  do not have money for medications, treatments or food.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

There is no turning back

"I have no doubt that what happened here on that evening is the beginning of a new era in Israel`s history and in its political arena." 

This Hagai Matar says in his Aug.7 MySay article (fresh from the huge demonstration). I translated it and included the translation of the speech by Shira Ohayon, which he mentions.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

So, who is the leftist here?

Who are they and what are they, these young people who set up a tent encampment on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv which then spread to the whole country and succeeded in organizing huge demonstrations and rallies for the third consecutive week? What sort of people could they be, what might they be if they go out into the streets and chant at the top of their voices "The People Demand Social Justice"? What kind of people are not willing to leave economics to the free-wheeling free market game played between the great capitalists, on the assumption that when the rich become even more rich there will fall down some crumbs also on the table of those who are down the social ladder? Who are demanding  the creation of a welfare state, where the government would ensure fair housing at affordable prices to all, and take care of education and health and all public services, and fund all of this by imposing higher taxes on the rich and the well-to-do?

Everywhere else in the world it would be obvious and unequivocal: these are left wing activists and this movement is a left-wing movement, by its very nature and essence. The call for social justice and for a welfare state is the kind of demand associated with the left since the concept "Left" came to be known in human social and political life. So it had been for centuries, even long before the birth of a man named Karl Marx. But in Israel, all of this is considered as "A Social Issue" which is considered politically neutral, a subject unrelated to the struggle between Right and Left and on which  they can struggle together.

Left and Right in an ethnocracy

As was the common wisdom in Israel for decades, the division between "Left" and "Right" in this country, those considered "Political", are  the occupation of and construction of settlements on the West Bank, the siege of the Gaza Strip, the need of going to war versus the possibility of reaching peace with the Palestinians and all Arabs. Also the status of Arabs inside Israel had somehow gotten into  this slot,  whether they are citizens with equal rights and what status they can have in a "Jewish Democratic State"; whether the Bedouins in the Negev are living on what remained of their ancestral lands or are "squatting on state lands".
On all such issues the dividing lines are sharp and clear: right-wingers are those who regard Israel as a state for Jews and Jews only;  on the left are those who uphold and defend the rights of non-Jews, who heartily despise the occupation and settlements, as a moral abomination as well as destroyers of the Israeli society  itself.
In recent years, there also came up the issue of refugees and migrant workers from Third World countries, especially Black Africa. Naturally everybody slipped into their obvious positions. The right-wingers shifted right away from purveying Arab-hatred to spreading crude stereotypes against the immigrants and calling for their immediate deportation and establish a "Neighborhood Watch" to physically attack them on the streets, while activists from the left worked intensively to help them and defend their rights as human beings (and taking care to remind that we Jews were ourselves persecuted unwanted refugees, not so long ago).

But what has all this to do with "Social Problems"? If we dig a bit deeper, we could see that in the common Israeli terminology, "Social Problems" means problems in the relationships of Jews among themselves. And by this definition, a right-winger can regard himself as as a full-fledged social activist, and to offer neat right-wing solutions to social problems. Just expropriate more Palestinian lands in  the Territories and built huge new settlements, and the housing problem is solved. And for those who don’t want to go there, the right-wing has more to offer – just throw the Sudanese and other Blacks out of South Tel Aviv, and presto – there are thousands of apartments standing free! So Barcuh Marzel, disciple and successor of Rabbi Meir Kahane, could declare without hesitation and without blushing "Where  social issues are concerned, I am more left than the left-wingers."

The racists' challenge

Last Thursday the extreme rightists, Kahanists and settler "hilltop youth", invaded the Rothschild Boulevard encampment and marched among the tents and chanted insults against Arabs and Blacks,  and at the corner of Allenby Street set up their own tents decorated with such signs as "Tel Aviv for the Jews" and "Sudanese, go back to Sudan". Which set a fundamental challenge for the protesters. Would this be accepted as a legitimate and natural part of the protest, in which "there is no distinction between Left  and Right "? Could racists join the march and chant along with everybody "The People Demand Social Justice", in between their own specific chants of "Death to the Arabs"? What would be the point and the value of such a protest?

But the protesters stood the test. In between the intense preparations for the big march to the government offices on  Kaplan Street, the tent encampment's general assembly adopted a resolution to strongly condemn any group calling for the expulsion of another group on racist, ethnic, religious, sexual or geographic base.  Now it was needed to implement the resolution. As reported in the struggle's Facebook page, where the racist tents had stood, there was set up an encampment specifically dedicated to democracy and the equality of all human beings, with its byword "Say No to Hatred!".

Now, the struggle for social justice can resume. Marzel was a nuisance, back to the main target: at the offices of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.

Wrath of the revolution

The section above I wrote before I left for the rally, but had no time to translate and publish it. And just before I set of to Tel Aviv I saw on the struggle's Facebook page an exhortation worth quoting in full: 
Anyone who is tired of the protest, cheer up the protest really works it makes a change people from all walks identify with the struggle but of course the government waits for the protests to  fade away they are waiting for the revolution to get tired and fall down by the roadside. Today our wind becomes a storm, a tornado! We want to see half a million people in the streets  screaming and kicking and shaking things up! We will show them that we are serious and that spirit of the revolution will not evaporate so quickly, not before it becomes a devastating storm which sweeps them away! Do not give up, never give up - tonight we hit the streets!!

Well, it was not quite half a million people (at least not this week). But  three hundred thousand is not nothing...

See photos from The Mother of All Demonstrations in +972 Magazine