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?
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.