Israelis (finally) take it to the streets – part II.

The "1948 Tent" on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Blvd, one place where Jewish and Palestinian protesters have come together.

Update – Oh my, please do watch the fantastic video below, a musical remix of the shouts of protesters and an astonishingly blind-deaf-and-dumb interview given recently by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Yesterday, I wrote about the social protests that started in Israel on July 14 (please also read the comments on that post — one reader mentioned the insane and noxious anti-boycott law, which had somehow slipped my mind), and I promised that today I would get into why I’m cautiously, if barely, optimistic that the protests will bear fruit.

But first, a reminder of the social unrest underway across the globe:

  1. London, of course, is burning, apparently no longer literally but certainly figuratively. (If you’re interested in sorting that out a little, my dear friend Shaun provided me with these two links, both of which have helped me: Panic on the streets of London, by Laurie Penny, a blogger highly recommended by Shaun, and Caring costs – but so do riots, in The Independent, by Camila Batmanghelidjh).
  2. The Arab world is up in arms, in countries far-flung (Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain) and literally on Israel’s doorstep (Egypt and Syria).
  3. Students in Chile are demanding education reform, and they and their supporters have been clashing with police in huge numbers.
  4. And then there’s Israel, where one day saw some 300,000 protesters in the streets.
  5. And probably other unrest that hasn’t even crossed my radar yet.

As I wrote yesterday: These protests are not about the occupation, aka Israel’s greatest unresolved dysfunction. I firmly believe that unless and until the occupation is resolved (which is to say: ended), any fixes within Israeli society will merely slow its decline, not stop it. If Israel doesn’t close down the occupation — doesn’t stop investing in a permanent state of war in order to protect its on-going investment in the homes it builds on someone else’s land — Israel with wind up being another on the long list of Jewish disasters, no matter how the social protests turn out.

Having said that, I have a certain, limited sense of optimism that the protests could lead to good things, both in terms of the country’s various social inequities, and the occupation. With the understanding that everything I say below is a guess based at least in part in my gut, I’ll now tell you why:

First of all, all of Israel’s social ills are intertwined, in one way or another, with the occupation and the nation’s security mindset. One is forever being told that X, Y and/or Z simply cannot be addressed, because the country’s “security needs” come first. Women’s rights, the concerns of a functioning democracy, the needs of those living in the country’s periphery, all must stand in line behind the men (and it is men) with the tanks — and at a certain point, money and time being limited resources, the money and the time dry up, and a lot of worthy goals are left unmet.

That being the case, if someone begins to seriously address any of the issues raised by protesters, they’ll either run into the brick wall that is the security mindset — or they’ll find an effective way to start chipping away at it. At a some point, (more) people inside the Green Line will be unable to ignore the flood of resources directed across the border and into the settlements, and they’ll begin to demand, if not justice for the Palestinians, justice for themselves.

Moreover, unlike London’s rioters, Israel’s protesters have a coherent (if sprawling) message, and in part by maintaining order, they’ve managed to keep broadening their appeal. There are, no doubt, many people in Great Britain who sympathize with the needs of the underserved, but who tuned out the minute windows were broken.

And unlike the citizens of the Arab nations, Israelis have a long-established, deeply rooted civil society. It’s not the fault of the Arab peoples that they don’t — living under a tyrant tends to make establishing a functional civil society very, very difficult — but the truth of the thing is that the Arab peoples are now having to figure out how to channel their demands and people-power in effective and long-lasting ways. Israelis have been organizing in this fashion since before the establishment of the state. Indeed — it’s how the state was established.

Furthermore, a big chunk of the grassroots organizing that’s been done in Israel over the past two decades has been on the left. Settlers and their supporters have also planned and organized protests (most notably around the 2005 Gaza withdrawal), but as they haven’t been in opposition for years, they haven’t had to express themselves outside the halls of government as much as the left — and possibly more to the point, the right hasn’t managed to keep its protests nonviolent (even as Israeli and Palestinian peace activists have). On the contrary, ever since efforts to make nice with non-settlers failed miserably in 2005, many in the young generation of settlers/supporters have consciously chosen violent tactics — usually aimed at Palestinians, but occasionally aimed at Israel’s own security forces — in what is known as a “price tag” approach. All of which is to say: I’m guessing that a lot of the folks leading the social protests in Israel today are the same folks who led anti-occupation marches yesterday.

And finally, there are already signs of genuine cooperation between Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians in these protests — and if I, an Israeli Jew, come to understand that I have shared interests with the Israeli Palestinians of Yafo or Ramle, I am much more likely to come to understand that all Palestinians deserve human dignity, and even those on the other side of the Green Line have rights.

The left doesn’t need to convince everyone that the occupation has to end — it just has to convince a certain percentage of people. It doesn’t have to convince everyone who wants to stop spending money on settlements that Israel has a moral imperative toward the Palestinians — it just has to convince a certain percentage.

Massive, world-shaking, at-a-stroke change is never an option, and it’s not an option here.

But if organizers can get a certain percentage of Israeli Jews to come around to both the social and the diplomatic messages, they’ll create the kind of movement necessary to start the country toward real, lasting change. And for all the reasons listed above and in yesterday’s post — the breadth of the dissatisfaction, the sheer number of reasons to be dissatisfied (not to mention the fact that the possibility of change is greater when folks are rattling their cages from Chile to Yemen) — I think they have a chance.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about why I my optimism is so cautious, and so slim.

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Oh this video makes me so happy! Netanyahu is being interviewed in English; the protesters are shouting “The people demands social justice.”