Staying on the move in Israel and the Palestinian Territories through a month of trial. And today: enjoying Tel-Aviv and Israel’s biggest demonstration ever with a guest from outer space.
A dear friend of mine is visiting Tel-Aviv. Her name and job will have to remain a secret, and the most I can show of her is her hand in the photo below. This is because she is a western expatriate living in Syria.
Damascus Rose came here to relax a bit. Syria has become no less than a slaughterhouse over the past few months. This place, by comparison, is a tropical island. She actually coordinated her visit to Israel so as to include the massive “March of a Million” planned for tonight. Our revolution is her vacation from another revolution.
Damascus Rose is not here only for marching, however. “What I always miss most in Israel are the cafe breakfasts”, she says. When I suggest the Mexican breakfast at Dizi’s, near Dizingoff square, she frowns. “I want the real, typical thing, with eggs and a salad and a tuna salad and Labneh and jams and good bread and good coffee and orange juice.” Thankfully, Dizi offers that too, in the pleasant shade of its green awning.
This is the perfect spot in which to kick off a day of travel in Tel-Aviv itself. The cafe is located in one of the city’s hundreds of stunning Bauhaus buildings.
It’s a strange place to talk about death, but I’m dying to know more about the Syrian situation. We talk about Hama. “The government made an experiment in Hama,” says Damascus Rose. “They actually let things go a bit further there, hoping they would then peter off, which didn’t happen.”
“Netanyahu tried to do the same for a while,” I said, “I hope we will prove him wrong tonight.” My facebook feed this morning was unbelievably abuzz with the approaching march. At least 90% of it consisted of encouragements to go and demonstrate.
“Do you think you’ll be a million?”
“We’ll be 999,999 at most, since Ruthie is not here.”
Damascus Rose, whom I met years ago in Nazareth and see only sporadically, still haven’t met my girlfriend. I tell her of Ruthie’s researches in social psychology. She’s part of a team working on an ambitious developement: a tool that would teach people to approach politically sensitive issues from a more cognitive and less emotional perspective.
“But how would it be used?” she asks.
“It would be helpful if the government decided, for example, to end the occupation,” I explain.
“You think cognitive thinking would help?”
“Of course, because the occupation is dumb.”
“It’s so funny,” she says, “From what I know of the Palestinian perspective, they believe the problem to be the exact opposite. They think that if Israelis had more of a heart, then the occupation would end.”
“We have plenty of heart,” I attest, “It’s just that it’s full of fear.”
We have an entire day to spend before the demonstration is to begin. Damascus Rose wishes to visit some part of town she’s never seen before, so we walk down to the bus depot area, which has turned into a colorful immigrant district. On the way there we pass the hundreds of tents still erect of Rothschild Boulevard. It’s been nearly 50 days since one girl pitched a tent to protest housing prices, and swept a nation. A slump in energies had been felt since. Only traces remain of the summer of love atmosphere that reigned here a few weeks ago, but these traces are visible.
On the boulevard, Damascus Rose bumps into a familiar face from Damascus: another expatriate who was forced to leave Syria for political reasons.
For me as an Israeli, Damascus is so inaccessible that it could just as well be on Venus, and ano less a forbidden enemy territory than would be a den of Komodo dragons. I savour the sense that it is real, that it is close, and am thrilled at listening to the two friends as they exchange words of longing for it.
We keep moving south, through a Tel-Aviv in the midst of its Shabbos slumber, until reaching the not at all sleepy international quarter. Its main street is currently frequented mostly by Eritrean asylum seekers.
I take photos of the bustle only to be stopped by an African man leaning against a street lamp. He asks that I refrain from doing so.
For some reason, Damascus Rose gets upset with this. I try to explain to her that these are trying times not only for Syrian protesters, Palestinian state-hopefuls and Israeli tent-dwellers. Tel-Aviv’s immigrant and refugee community is experiencing a wave of deportations, including the deportation of children born on this soil to foreign parents. “He doesn’t want people to get nervous,” I assume and walk on.
She won’t have any of that, sticks around the corner to argue with the man and then joins me, distraught. “People from countries that have no freedom sometimes take on the behaviour of the ‘Shabikha’,” she says, and explains that “Shabikha” or “ghost” is a members of pro government gangs. “They tend to stand on street corners getting people in trouble,” she says. “Who needs that? This country has no Shabikha. Why does he have to act like that?”
A tiny event that reminded Damascus Rose of Damascus city, managed to fracture her Tel-Avivian calm. Thankfully, the nearby park offers a decent distraction. It turns out that today is a Nepalese women’s holiday and the park is full of ladies in gorgeous saris.
We stroll down to the quaint Neve Tzedek quarter for ice cream, then walk up the beach back into the center. By this time the Shabikha was mostly forgotten and only the slightly excessive activity of beach paddle players disrupts our afternoon calm.
At sundown, calm ceases to be our objective. We are going out to burn down the house. It soon becomes evident that this is going to be huge, really huge. The largest J14 demonstration so far attracted 300,000 people. The largest demonstration in Israel’s history, expressing outrage at the government following the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, was 400,000 strong.
This may well be bigger. Everyone is here, including the ladies in saris
The Palestinian-Israelis, the gay community, the prime-minister and the golden calf.
Damascus Rose hears a familiar chant, riseing from a group of Jaffoite demonstrators: “Al Sha’ab yuriz isqat al nizam” -”the people want to remove the regime”. “This is Syria!” she says, “This is what they yell at their demonstrations. This is also what they used to yell at Tahrir.” A shudder climbs up her spine. “This realy touches me,” she confesses.
She bids me farewell at Kikar Hamedina, the enormous round plaza where the closing rally is held. Damascus Rose has a long day of travel ahead of her tomorrow. I remain among half a million people chanting for social justice and change, listening to an unforgettable speech by Daphni Leef, the 25 years old who pitched that first tent. She speaks of alianation in Israeli society, of the debt in which nearly every Israeli is stuck, and of a system which gains from both. She is determined that we are on our way to changing this system, and praises those who dream, who dare to be idealists.
I think north, to those who dare to dream less than 400 kilometers from here, those who dare to dream where dreams are often lethal. We do not face the same kind of tyranny, and yet we do have something in common, now more so than ever. We have a lot to learn from them, and perhaps, depending on how we repair this place, they will someday have something to learn from us.
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