From asylum seekers demanding their wages to protests against the Gaza blackout to raising awareness over disappeared Yemenite babies, this summer’s protests give us every reason to stay optimistic about this place.
It’s hot outside. The Israeli summer often brings with it a new wave of social and political protests, and yet it looks like summer 2017 will be a special one.
Since the social justice protest of 2011 — and its successors in the following years — there has been a sense that Israeli citizens have lost faith in their ability to influence, change, protest, and get results. Meanwhile, the strengthening of the Right, the delegitimization of the Left and Israel’s leaders attempt to smear any protest as an act of subversion have had an immeasurable impact. The terrible war in summer 2014, which left thousands dead, resulted to the smallest number of anti-war demonstrators than in any previous war. Those who did come out to protest were met with the brutal violence of the thuggish right wing.
We also saw the rise of large protest movements: housing struggles, demonstrations against Netanyahu’s gas deal, the protest by Ethiopian-Israelis against police violence, and more. But for the most part, every movement stood by itself, for itself. Not so this summer.
The struggles that have erupted over the last three weeks are impressive and extraordinary. Yes, the fact that people have reasons to march in the streets is infuriating in its own right, and sheds a light on the worrying behavior of this government. But things that would have previously passed by the wayside are now energizing and enraging people, pushing them to protest, and even connect between struggles.
What follows is a rundown of only a small portion of the important protests from the past month:
Yemenite children affair: The mainstream media mostly ignored the powerful demonstration that took place in Jerusalem this week, where over 2,000 people came to break a silence of almost 60 years. Those outlets that did cover the protest did the bare minimum. But look at the photos, read Orly Noy’s report, and understand what kind of incredible thing took place here last week, which included solidarity from both the Left and the Right.
Gender violence: The continuing terror against women brought out hundreds into the streets. Whether they were Bedouin women protesting in the south, women in Ramle and Lod, or the demonstrations that took place across Israel last week, it is clear that the police and government’s failure to provide security to women are beginning to carry a price. Last week’s rally in Tel Aviv turned into a spontaneous march through the streets, during which protesters blocked traffic in the center of the city.
Censorship in the arts: It is hard to imagine that what happened in the Acco Theater Festival could have happened a year or two ago. Every single performer decided to cancel their appearances, large theater companies called for boycotting the festival, and all due to an attempt to censor a play about Palestinian prisoners. Similar attempts at censorship are occurring across the country, often successfully. Acco is an example of resistance.
Wage-docking law: Thousands of asylum seekers marched in Tel Aviv two weeks ago against a new law that would dock 20 percent of their wages. They weren’t alone: activists, residents of south Tel Aviv, and restaurant owners who employ refugees stood alongside them in opposition to the move, which is meant to hasten their deportation and will only increase poverty among an already-persecuted group.
50 years too many: The 50th anniversary of Israel’s military regime, land theft, killing, settlement, and discrimination was met with a series of protest actions. Over 15,000 people protested in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square for two states. Hundreds marched in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam. In Haifa, the left-wing Hadash party organized a demonstration against the occupation. Local Call editor Eli Bitan’s speech in Rabin Square sparked a heated discussion in the ultra-Orthodox community, and along with the opposition to his remarks came a great deal of support from both journalists and left-wing ultra-Orthodox.
Be’er Sheva Pride March: Last year, Local Call’s Daniel Beller exposed the opposition by the city’s establishment — the rabbinate, the municipality, and the police — to holding a pride march in the city. A year later, the local community celebrated its first ever pride march across the city.
Sumud Freedom Camp: To commemorate 50 years of occupation, a group of Palestinians, diaspora Jews, and Israelis built a joint protest camp in the south Hebron Hills. The outpost was demolished several times by the army, yet the activists remain there. Meanwhile, Israeli activists continue taking part in nonviolent Palestinian protests in Nabi Salah, Bil’in, Qadum, and other villages across the West Bank.
Avera Mengistu: Avera Mengiustu, an Ethiopian-Israeli, has been held in Hamas custody for almost three years, and the Israeli government is doing little to secure his release. In the beginning of the month, hundreds of Ethiopian-Israelis protested for his release in Tel Aviv.
Academic freedom: Since Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s new academic “code of ethics” was published, Israeli academics have taken part in a rare protest against the regime. Although they remain relatively silent when Palestinian academics are silenced by the military regime — not to mention on broader social issues — the past two weeks has seen researchers, heads of institutions, and academics join forces against the education minister. It seems that they will successfully stop his attempts at stopping them from expressing their opinions.
Gaza blackout: After Israel agreed to the Palestinian Authority’s request to cut Gaza’s power supply once again, dozens of Israeli activists released paper lanterns in solidarity with the blacked-out Strip.
Conscientious objectors: Jewish and Arab supporters of Atalia Ben-Abba, who is sitting in military prison due to her opposition to the occupation, continue to protest for her release. Dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jews also continue their struggle against enlistment in the IDF.
Breaking the Silence: On Friday morning, Dean Issacharof, the spokesperson of anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence, was summoned for investigation by the police over a testimony he provided to the organization, according to which he beat a Palestinian during his army service. There is nothing wrong with the police investigating attacks on Palestinians — on the contrary. The problem is that neither the police, the army, nor Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who ordered Issacharof’s investigation, are so keen on investigating every single case of abuse against Palestinians by the army. It is clear to all that this investigation is meant to deter anti-occupation organizing, and to cause former Israeli soldiers to think twice providing testimonies to the organization.
Workers struggles: Aside from the wage-docking law, thousands of workers continue to struggle for their rights. Thousands of Clal workers are on strike as they push for a collective bargaining agreement. Superbus drivers are preparing to go on strike to protest the lack of safety on their buses, among other reasons. Paz Refinery workers declared a strike last week. i24 journalists (who I am accompanying on behalf of the Union of Journalists in Israel) declared a labor dispute after their management dragged negotiations for over a year and a half, and refuses to sign a collective bargaining agreement. The crane workers who quit their jobs over safety issues and poor wages established a new cooperative. Hundreds of security guards and bus drivers in private companies won respective collective bargaining agreements over the past few weeks.