ARE THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL IN DANGER OR IS THEIR GOVERNMENT?

Over half a million people demonstrated throughout Israel last night …. will anything come of it? Uri Avnery deals with this in the following report…

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WHO ARE these people? What exactly do they want?

It started with a demand for “Affordable Housing”. Rents in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere are extremely high, after years of Government neglect. But the protest soon engulfed other subjects: the high price of foodstuffs and gasoline, the low wages . The ridiculously low salaries of physicians and teachers, the deterioration of the education and health services. There is a general feeling that 18 tycoons control everything, including the politicians. (Politicians who dared to show up in the tent cities were chased away.) They could have quoted an American saying: “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”

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“How Goodly Are Thy Tents”

By Uri Avnery

FIRST OF all, a warning.

Tent cities are springing up all over Israel. A social protest movement is gathering momentum. At some point in the near future, it may endanger the right-wing government.

At that point, there will be a temptation – perhaps an irresistible temptation – to “warm up the borders”. To start a nice little war. Call on the youth of Israel, the same young people now manning (and womanning) the tents, to go and defend the fatherland.

Nothing easier than that. A small provocation, a platoon crossing the border “to prevent the launching of a rocket”, a fire fight, a salvo of rockets – and lo and behold, a war. End of protest.

In September, just a few weeks from now, the Palestinians intend to apply to the UN for the recognition of the State of Palestine. Our politicians and generals are chanting in unison that this will cause a crisis – Palestinians in the occupied territories may rise in protest against the occupation, violent demonstrations may ensue, the army will be compelled to shoot – and lo and behold, a war. End of protest.

THREE WEEKS ago I was interviewed one morning by a Dutch journalist. At the end, she asked: “You are describing an awful situation. The extreme right-wing controls the Knesset and is enacting abominable anti-democratic laws. The people are indifferent and apathetic. There is no opposition to speak of. And yet you exude a spirit of optimism. How come?”

I answered that I have faith in the people of Israel. Contrary to appearances, we are a sane people. Some time, somewhere, a new movement will arise and change the situation. It may happen in a week, in a month, in a year. But it will come.

On that very same day, just a few hours later, a young woman called Daphne Liff, with an improbable man’s hat perched on her flowing hair, said to herself: “Enough!”

She had been evicted by her landlady because she couldn’t afford the rent. She set up a tent in Rothschild Boulevard, a long, tree-lined thoroughfare in the center of Tel Aviv. The news spread through facebook, and within an hour, dozens of tents had sprung up. Within a week, there were some 400 tents, spread out in a double line more than a mile long.

Similar tent-cities sprang up in Jerusalem, Haifa and a dozen smaller towns. The next Saturday, tens of thousands joined protest marches in Tel Aviv and elsewhere. Last Saturday, they numbered more than 150,000.

This”] has now become the center of Israeli life. The Rothschild tent city has assumed a life of its own –a cross between Tahrir Square and Woodstock, with a touch of Hyde Park corner thrown in for good measure. The mood is indescribably upbeat, masses of people come to visit and return home full of enthusiasm and hope. Everybody can feel that something momentous is happening.

Seeing the tents, I was reminded of the words of Balaam, who was sent by the king of Moab to curse the children of Israel in the desert (Numbers 24) and instead exclaimed: “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, Oh Israel!”

IT ALL started in a remote little town in Tunisia, when an unlicensed market vendor was arrested by a policewoman. It seems that in the ensuing altercation, the woman struck the man in the face, a terrible humiliation for a Tunisian man. He set himself on fire. What followed is history: the revolution in Tunisia, regime change in Egypt, uprisings all over the Middle East.

The Israeli government saw all this with growing concern – but they didn’t imagine that there might be an effect in Israel itself. Israeli society, with its ingrained contempt for Arabs, could hardly be expected to follow suit.

But follow suit it did. People in the street spoke with growing admiration of the Arab revolt. It showed that people acting together could dare to confront leaders far more fearsome than our bumbling Binyamin Netanyahu.

Some of the most popular posters on the tents were “Rothschild corner Tahrir” and, in a Hebrew rhyme, “Tahrir – Not only in Cahir” – Cahir being the Hebrew version of al-Cahira, the Arabic name for Cairo. And also: “Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu”.

In Tahrir Square, the central slogan was “The People Want to Overthrow the Regime”. In conscious emulation, the central slogan of the tent cities is “The People Want Social Justice”.

WHO ARE these people? What exactly do they want?

It started with a demand for “Affordable Housing”. Rents in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere are extremely high, after years of Government neglect. But the protest soon engulfed other subjects: the high price of foodstuffs and gasoline, the low wages . The ridiculously low salaries of physicians and teachers, the deterioration of the education and health services. There is a general feeling that 18 tycoons control everything, including the politicians. (Politicians who dared to show up in the tent cities were chased away.) They could have quoted an American saying: “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”

A selection of the slogans gives an impression: We want a welfare state! Fighting for the home! Justice, not charity! If the government is against the people, the people are against the government! Bibi, this is not the US Congress, you will not buy us with empty words! If you don’t join our war, we shall not fight your wars! Give us our state back! Three partners with three salaries cannot pay for three rooms! The answer to privatization: revolution! We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, we are slaves to Bibi in Israel! I have no other homeland! Bibi, go home, we’ll pay for the gas! Overthrow swinish capitalism! Be practical, demand the impossible!

WHAT IS missing in this array of slogans? Of course: the occupation, the settlements, the huge expenditure on the military.

This is by design. The organizers, anonymous young men and women – mainly women – are very determined not to be branded as “leftists”. They know that bringing up the occupation would provide Netanyahu with an easy weapon, split the tent-dwellers and derail the protests.

We in the peace movement know and respect this. All of us are exercising strenuous self-restraint, so that Netanyahu will not succeed in marginalizing the movement and depicting it as a plot to overthrow the right-wing government.

As I wrote in an article in Haaretz: No need to push the protesters. In due course, they will reach the conclusion that the money for the major reforms they demand can only come from stopping the settlements and cutting the huge military budget by hundreds of billions – and that is possible only in peace. (To help them along, we published a large ad, saying: “It’s quite simple – money for the settlements OR money for housing, health services and education”).

Voltaire said that “the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one class of citizens to give it to the other”. This government takes the money of decent citizens to give it to the settlers.

WHO ARE they, these enthusiastic demonstrators, who seemingly have come from nowhere?

They are the young generation of the middle class, who go out to work, take home average salaries and “cannot finish the month”, as the Israeli expression goes. Mothers who cannot go to work because they have nowhere to leave their babies. University students who cannot get a room in the dormitories or afford accomodation in the city. And especially young people who want to marry but cannot afford to buy an apartment, even with the help of their parents. (One tent bore the sign: “Even this tent was bought by our parents”)

All this in a flourishing economy, which has been spared the pains of the world-wide economic crisis and boasts an enviable unemployment rate of just 5%.

If pressed, most of the protesters would declare themselves to be “social-democrats”. They are the very opposite of the Tea Party in the US: they want a welfare state, they blame privatization for many of their ills, they want the government to interfere and to act. Whether they want to admit it or not, the very essence of their demands and attitudes is classically leftist (the term created in the French Revolution because the adherents of these ideals sat on the left side of the speaker in the National Assembly). They are the essence of what Left means – (though in Israel, the terms “Left” and “Right” have until now been largely identified with questions of war and peace).

WHERE WILL it go from here?

No one can say. When asked about the impact of the French Revolution, Zhou Enlai famously said: “It’s too early to say.” Here we are witnessing an event still in progress, perhaps even still beginning.

It has already produced a huge change. For weeks now, the public and the media have stopped talking about the borders, the Iranian bomb and the security situation. Instead, the talk is now almost completely about the social situation, the minimum wage, the injustice of indirect taxes, the housing construction crisis.

Under pressure, the amorphous leadership of the protest has drawn up a list of concrete demands. Among others: government building of houses for rent, raising taxes on the rich and the corporations, free education from the age of three months [sic], a raise in the salary of physicians, police and fire-fighters, school classes of no more than 21 pupils, breaking the monopolies controlled by a few tycoons, and so on.

So where from here? There are many possibilities, both good and bad.

Netanyahu can try to buy off the protest with some minor concessions – some billions here, some billions there. This will confront the protesters with the choice of the Indian boy in the movie about becoming a millionaire: take the money and quit, or risk all on answering yet another question.

Or: the movement may continue to gather momentum and force major changes, such as shifting the burden from indirect to direct taxation.

Some rabid optimists (like myself) may even dream of the emergence of a new authentic political party to fill the gaping void on the left side of the political spectrum.

I STARTED with a warning, and I must end with another one: this movement has raised immense hopes. If it fails, it may leave behind an atmosphere of despondency and despair – a mood that will drive those who can to seek a better life somewhere else.

 

Written FOR

10 Comments

  1. August 7, 2011 at 16:13

    AMAZING!! Could the answer to this Zionist state lye in the people itself!? Are the Israelis waking up to the fact they cannot maintain all this military spending and retain there standard of living to?! Maybe America can take lesson from this?

  2. Common Cent$ said,

    August 7, 2011 at 18:23

    Outcome of their demands means they’ll get even MORE billions of US taxes while Americans are homeless. 100billion for 5.8 million persons, much of it stolen and swindled via AIPAC etc and used to bludgeon and murder Palestinians. Their demand for lower housing means more housing means stealing more Palestine land means more US $$ for guns to kill Palestine blowback etc etc etc.
    Let this illegitimate state fall as well as the banks and bankers that spawned it.

  3. Common Cent$ said,

    August 7, 2011 at 18:27

    Mark,

    No spiritual or moral awakening here, rather Reality has knocked.
    The parasite’s host is finally dying due to the parasite’s wars and banker plunder. Host can no longer support parasite in the manner to which it is accustomed.

  4. mikael said,

    August 7, 2011 at 19:11

    Symphaty, no, infact non at all.
    Understanding, yes.
    This is no suprice that the war machin Israel grines itself to a halt.

    The resan for my words are the 6 decades of neglegting and refusing to even consider the situation for Israels Nabo, Palestina.
    Crawled under a paraply of selfimposed covardness and a contemplacy over the progres made in the Israeli society over the years, despite the ongoing horrors imposed on the Palestinians.

    Hope, we shal see.
    When elements are talking about more building in Palestinian teritory, for housing, we know that this revelution is not what we are been told.
    I am aware to, because they hold the future of Israel in their hands.
    The articles is somewhat for me a smokscreen, for the inherent rasistic people that is imported from the eastern Europa.
    They are the propblem, we all know that. The news is to tight regulated and givs the impresion of a social coniousness that is to me missleadings.
    Words only don prove anything and to me, its almoust useless, its just words.
    In the begining I was exited, now I am not shure anymore.
    For the PalestiniansI I belive they cant expect anything god from this “revelution”.
    Nothing.

    “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
    — Martin Luther King Jr.

  5. August 7, 2011 at 21:44

    True the political leanings are to the left. But even the left are not always wrong. The left are also against the occupation to. And honestly after it’s all said and done. Despite if Israel deserved it or not. I would be OK to keep giving that 3 to 9 Billion if they gave up this crazy Zionism Political Philosophy. Decided to be one state and let the Palestinians return with there rights. This has gone for 63,64 years to long now. Screw it! Let them have the money! As long as they stop the killing. And stopped influencing are foreign and domestic policies. Look I am very hard on Israel to. But if came to more strife in this world because I was to cheap to shell out a little money. Or give the money and have some tranquility in this world. I’ll chose the ladder. With that said. That was me being a idealist. The reality knowing of this Zionist Mentality is totally different though. One can only hope and pray these protests are a good thing. It is interesting to watch though.

  6. August 7, 2011 at 22:53

    […] ARE THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL IN DANGER OR IS THEIR GOVERNMENT? […]

  7. August 8, 2011 at 02:01

    […] ARE THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL IN DANGER OR IS THEIR GOVERNMENT? […]

  8. August 8, 2011 at 05:03

    […] ARE THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL IN DANGER OR IS THEIR GOVERNMENT? […]

  9. August 8, 2011 at 05:10

    […] ARE THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL IN DANGER OR IS THEIR GOVERNMENT? […]

  10. Ann McCoy said,

    August 8, 2011 at 15:59

    http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/gilad-atzmon-the-landlord-wannabe-protest.html

    Gilad Altzman says it best a bunch of spoiled kids with no conscience of the trauma Israel has visited on the Palestinians. This is about self-interest / not any real political enlightenment.


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