Tahrir Envy: An Anti-Occupation Activist’s First Thoughts on the Tent Protests in Israel

Tahrir Envy in Rabin Square

Almost a month in, Tahrir-envy in Israel is now at what seems to be its peak. 150,000 people took the streets last Sunday, at what must have been the biggest protests here since the protests against the “disengagement” from Gaza. For months now, a public whisper was spread through the mainstream media; why don’t the Israelis take the streets?

“Where are the masses? With its lack of ideology and values, the phenomenon of postmodernism is one reason why downtrodden Israelis choose not to rise up and free themselves of latter-day bondage. Revolution Square is empty.”

While the people of our neighboring states are getting shot en-mass in a bold attempt to dismantle their oppressing regimes, the deteriorating Israeli middle class found out they were paying quadruple the cost of Israeli produce in Europe, and they weren’t gonna take it anymore. A law against boycotts was passed, among other fascistic laws [1,2,3,4,5], but the cottage cheese boycott was the one that captured the spotlight. And it wasn’t boycotted for being produced on stolen land.

But cottage cheese must have just been a symptom, along with it came protests over the rising gas prices, separate workers’ protests, including underpaid and overworked doctors, dock workers, university cleaning staff and many more. And still, no one would claim that The Only Democracy In The Middle East™ is crumbling from within. In fact, some would say the lack of public out-cry is  a shining example of its stability:

But then something happened. A young, white, higher-middle-class Ashkenazi woman was unable to pay the rent. She erected a tent in one of the most prestigious boulevards in Tel-Aviv during her semester break and demanded reasonable rent. Within a week, 130 tents were erected along Rothschild boulevard and a movement was born. All across the 1967 borders, Israelis are demanding “social justice”, and to that effect, the state has a polite, middle-class resistance on their hands.

Arab Spring Minus the Arabs

Even us Anarchists couldn’t stay indifferent to the fact that the white middle class was rising up. To us, the housing protest is a great opportunity to bring Lyd, Jaffa, Ramle, Silwan and Al-arakhib to the forefront of middle-Israel, and try to connect occupation with habitation, appropriation with apartheid, and gentrification with genocide. The limits to this idea would soon be vividly illustrated to us, as our “Anarchists Against the Wall” banner and ActiveStills exhibition were torn down. We went back into our closet and came out as “Salon Mazal”, a radical info shop that somehow managed to find a way into the hearts of center-left Tel-Aviv, who were now boulevard residents.

Unfortunately, even though we were generally well-received, the most common question asked by the boulevard dwellers was “What do Arabs have to do with it?” Indeed, even though tents have popped up in 10 cities, Arabs (god forbid Palestinians) are still a non-issue (what do you call a democratic protest for Jews only?), Arabic isn’t the language of liberation (but the tent areas are called “Ma’ahal”), and not only was the Jaffa Ma’ahal taken down the day it was created, but a little birdy told me that they were urged not to write signs in Arabic by the main Ma’ahal in Rothchild.

That said, I’d like to mention the interesting steps made at uniting against oppression by the Be’er Sheva Ma’ahal that has been joined by al-Arakhib, the anti-racist efforts at the Levinsky Ma’ahal in south Tel Aviv and the latest declaration of peace in the Middle East coming out of the Tiqva Ma’ahal, also in south Tel Aviv, joining hands the the Jaffa Ma’ahal [limited by my translation]:

Arabs and Jews will March Together in the Saturday Demonstration: “A Natural Connection”

Nearing the big demonstration of the protest organizations, Saturday evening in Tel Aviv, the Jewish-Arab Ma’ahal dwellers in Jaffa announced that they’ll unite with the big ma’ahal that was erected in the Tikva neighborhood in the city. Activists in both Ma’ahals met last night and agreed to march together in the demonstration, in order to express the “cry of groups that have been expelled from the Israeli society,” in their words. Hana Aamouri, the Jaffa popular committee representative, said that “the connection with the Tikva neighborhood and other marginalized neighborhoods is natural, both in demands and an ma’ahal character. The troubles are similar and the messages are similar, more than any other ma’ahal.”

The Privilege of Protest

But not all is simply harmonious in the Israeli Tahrir. As always, if you want unity in Israel, you have to pick it “politically clean”. Thus the protest has managed to keep “social, not political” (which means we don’t talk about Arabs as such). We march to the museum under the banner of “the nation wants social justice”, forgetting that at least 20% of the population doesn’t identify as “the nation of Israel”, and once we get there we get our image of Woodstock, complete with the biggest names in local rock.

Mizrachi music stays in the Ma’ahals of the “periphery”. These Ma’ahals have been evicted by the police, with the usual assumption that no one will notice. Levinsky, the Ma’ahal I joined in the south of the city, is a joint protest of the marginalized south Tel-Aviv residents, the African refugees and friends. Rothschild was just too far away for the lower classes to be able to commit to and get a day’s work done. In Israel 2011, people of color have no choice but to ride the waves of a white revolution in hopes of gathering the crumbs.

Don’t get me wrong, this protest- this movement in social dynamics in Israel- is way over due. Walking Rothschild boulevard, I noticed people weren’t talking about the best parties, that hot guy, or their new mobile phone. Politics- whether they realized it or not- was the language spoken. Social concern and even compassion is the new fad.

But maybe that’s what it is- a fad. Never has a protest been so pampered by the media. Never has the media busied itself so much with making amateurish and corny musical compilations that could rival a youtube video. How long will the media talk so fondly of “our youth of the revolution”? What will it take for all this to disappear? Semester restart? September security propaganda? Boredom masked in disillusionment?

Vibrant Apartheid

A tent’s fate in Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank

Back to my reality: There’s a dilemma in being an anti-occupation activist and sitting in the “Ma’ahal”. One whiff of tear gas in the Palestinian villages in the occupied territories can make you forget a whole week in tent city. Apart from the typical result of a mainstream protest, where we can expect the middle class will be lulled right back to sleep, while the the marginalized are howling in the doghouse; In Israel one must think of what happens beyond the apartheid wall.

All these strictly social-but-not-political protests are a social manifestation of apartheid mentality. If housing is the name of the game, then it’s not just about reasonable rent, mortgage, or even basic sanitation needs. As I’ve mentioned, the systematic demolition of homes and theft of land isn’t addressed by the Israelis’ revolution. Not within Israel-proper, and mums the word about them occupied territories.

Yes, there is a massive policy of privatization. Yes, people are only considered by the merit of their consuming ability. Yes, Wages stand still, while rent rockets sky high. Yes, whatever is outside center Tel-Aviv is called “the periphery”. There’s plenty of reason to stop the train in Israel, but somehow it’s never because it goes through occupied Palestinian land. Let us not mistake this display of a vibrant democracy for an actual vibrant democracy.

15 thoughts on “Tahrir Envy: An Anti-Occupation Activist’s First Thoughts on the Tent Protests in Israel

    1. LOL

      The protesters in Tahrir Square are being blocked by Islamists who support the military council’s calls for “stability”. You know who else supports “stability” in Egypt? Israel and it’s leashdog, the US.

  1. This article is much better in regard to the problem of dealing with Jewish supremacism among the protesters than is the article by Uri Avnery, “How Goodly Are Thy Tents”:
    http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1312551971/
    although the latter makes some useful observations about how the Netanyahu regime might start a war to mobilize that Jewish supremacism and undermine the protests.

    Surely, anti-Zionist leftists in Israel are looking for ways to combine the economic struggles of, especially, the less ‘middle-class’ Jewish Israelis with the struggle for Palestinian rights and equality throughout ‘mandate’ Palestine. It would be a serious mistake to fail to confront Israeli Jewish chauvinism — and Ashkenazi supremacism! — while supporting Israeli workers’ economic demands, even if it means getting banned from some of the protest sites.

  2. It is sad that people in Israel tend to think only about their own welfare and not about their neighbors’. I can’t say I agree with everything you’ve written in this post, but I am hopeful that out of these protest, a slightly more aware public will arise.

    1. hadarw, check out http://www.hudson-ny.org/1953/arab-apartheid where you can see how thoughtless you are to say that the people in Israel tend to think only about their own welfare and not about their neighbors’.
      “Last year alone, some 180,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip entered Israel to receive medical treatment. Many were treated despite the fact that they did not have enough money to cover the bill. In Israel, even a suicide bomber who is — only! — wounded while trying to kill Jews is entitled to the finest medical treatment.”

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  5. Without coming to grips with militarism, racism, and oppression, the Israeli protest movement will be easily coopted and will not be able to achieve its goals. Regime change is the only way to social justice. So, which way forward?

    There are local tent camps all over the country. These are the nuclei of local fighting organzations of the oppressed people. The Palestinian oppressed must join this movement on their own terms. Tent camps should be erected in solidarity all over the Nakab, Galilee, Golan, Triangle, West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Jordan.

    All those who claim to speak for the workers, the farmers, and the refugees must endorse this struggle. All those who advocate BDS to isolate the Zionist regime must reach out to all the victims of the regime and form a common front.

    Those who understand that social justice in Palestine requires regime change must lead the fight and proclaim: “The people demand an end to the regime”, “Not one shekel for the settler-colonies; the entire state budget for housing, healthcare, and education”, “For a 35-hour workweek with no reduction in pay”, “Free Gilad Shalit; free all Palestinian political prisoners”, “Housing is a right; no to house demolitions — no matter what”, “The Palestine refugees are our partners for coexistence — let them come home”, “Tear down the wall; build housing for all”, “A state for all its citizens — not for the settlers, the generals, and the tycoons”.

  6. Even us Anarchists couldn’t stay indifferent to the fact that the white middle class was rising up.

    Even the anarchists are steeped in notions of European supremacy in this settler colony:

    http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/the_receiving_end_of_our_dreams

    In his seminal book Expulsion of the Palestinians, Palestinian scholar Nur Masalha writes of Israel Zangwill’s infamous slogan “a land without a people for a people without a land” that it was not intended as a literal demographic assessment: “[Zionists] did not mean that there were no people in Palestine, but that there were no people worth considering within the framework of the notions of European supremacy that then held sway”.

    James Horrox’s book on anarchism in the kibbutz movement marginalises the Palestinian people in a similar way – they do not really exist in his narrative of how the Israeli collective settlements were established and then functioned. He is writing about Palestine, a country whose population was around 90% Arab (Christian and Muslim) when the first kibbutz was established in 1910, as if its primary importance was as a plaything for European experiments in group living…

    Horrox refers to the “different types of power networks that have complicated” the kibbutzim’s existence. His argument seems to be that they were essentially well-intended, but lost their way because of a drift towards Marxism, and betrayal by the Zionist leadership. To Horrox, it seems, the crimes of Zionism are only worth mentioning when they caused discomfort to the settlers’ experiments in collective rural life – what Segev describes as “a hyperintense adolescent fantasy come true”. His approach divorces the kibbutzim from their colonial context, and focuses on form over substance.

    Any attempt at understanding the kibbutzim’s impact on the native Palestinian population is either ignored, or dismissed as passing “judgement on the efforts of the past in light of the injustices of the present”. It is as if the Zionist movement and the kibbutzim were all sweetness and light up until a few years ago…

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