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The fault and the hope of J14

Now that the entire Israeli public is listening, it’s time to open up the conversation

Protesters in Tel Aviv. Does Justice refer to Palestinians as well? (photo: Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Many people have rightly pointed out that the J14 protests, which mobilized Israelis to the country’s largest ever demonstration yesterday, refrains from dealing with questions regarding the status of Palestinians under Israeli control – issues such as equality under the law, access to resources and most notably, the occupation.

While I agree with those calls, I think they are missing some of the opportunities this movement presents. I was planning to write an article on these issues, but then saw that Palestinian activist Abir Kopty did a much better job than I could hope to do in dealing with these questions. Kopty describes her feelings following the time she spent at Tent 1948, a small Jewish-Palestinian compound at the heart of the Rothschild tent camp:

The existence of Tent 1948 in the encampment constitutes a challenge to people taking part in the July 14 movement. In the first few days, the tent was attacked by group of rightwing activists, who beat activists in the tent and broke down the Palestinian flag of the tent. Some of the leaders of the July 14 movement have said clearly that raising core issues related to Palestinian community in Israel or the occupation will make the struggle “lose momentum”. They often said the struggle is social, not political, as if there was a difference. They are afraid of losing supporters if they make Palestinian issues bold.

The truth is that this is the truth.

The truth is, this is exactly what might help Netanyahu, if he presses the button of fear, recreates the ‘enemy’ and reproduce the ‘security threat’, he might be able to silence this movement. The problem is not with Netanyahu, he is not the first Israeli leader to rely on this. The main problem is that Israelis are not ready yet to see beyond the walls surrounding them.

Yet, one has to admit, something is happening, Israelis are awakening. There is a process; people are coming together, discussing issues. The General Assembly of the encampment decided on Friday that it will not accept any racist messages among its participants. Even to Tent 1948 many Israelis arrived, read the flyers, listened to what Tent 1948 represent and discussed calmly. Perhaps if I was a Jewish Israeli I will be proud of the July 14 movement. But, I am not a Jew, I am not Zionist, I am Palestinian.

Well, I am a Jew, and I share Abir Kopty’s call for Israelis to take the opportunity of the July 14 movement not just to speak of market economy and social welfare, but to examine the entire nature of the social order in this country – and with it, the relation between Jews and Arabs.

When I visited the tent camp at Rothschild Boulevard I saw people examining the signs and reading the leaflets around tent 1948. I heard that after the rally last night a group of Hassidic Jews stopped there. At the same time, “equality tent” was built at the site of the camp that some extreme rightwing settlers tried to built, before being forced out by leftwing protesters [UPDATE: I just came back from the tents, the settlers are back, and there are constant verbal confrontations and even a bit of pushing and shoving between them and other protesters] . One should also note that among the speakers in the Tel Aviv rally was Palestinian author Udah Basharat, who spoke of land confiscation & discrimination, and mentioned the ongoing campaign against the village El-Araqib.

The J14 movement can go many ways – it can even bring Israel further to the right; it certainly won’t be the first time in history in which social unrest led to the rise of rightwing demagoguery – but right now, it is creating a space for a new conversation. Limited as this space may be, it’s so much more than we had just a month ago.

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    1. Koshiro

      I’m cynical about this J14 movement – I don’t think that any power shift involving the current players in Israeli politics will have any positive effect on Israeli views vis-a-vis Palestinians.
      The only thing I take from this is: More efforts should be made to step up BDS efforts on all levels – because Israelis can evidently be made to protest when their standard of living is on the line. So, putting it on the line would be the way to go if you want to achieve anything through the thick layers of arrogance, ignorance and obstinacy that prevent Israelis from treating Palestinians as equals.

      Reply to Comment
    2. David

      I think there’s about a 95% chance that this will only lead to the government placating an already right-wing Israeli public with more cheap, stolen housing.

      But I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Anthony

      Koshiro: If you think Israelis will fail to make the connection now between their standard of living and the Occupation, what makes you think that BDS will have any positive impact?

      Reply to Comment
    4. @Noam – I share your hope and desire for the protest organizers, such as they now exist, to broaden this discussion. However, I simultaneously fear that doing so could significantly weaken support for these protests. Given the massive crowds last night, it’s difficult to realize, emotionally, that this movement is still very, very young. Bottom line: my emotional and rational sides are very much conflicted right now.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Koshiro

      @ Anthony
      There is no such direct connection right now. Yes, there are lots of hidden costs of the occupation, but the case for “Occupation = lower standards of living for Israelis” is not easy to argue. I’m all for making it easier to argue.

      Reply to Comment
    6. The photo accompanying this article is of a man holding a Black Panthers banner, but the article itself contains no reference to Mizrahi struggle or participation in the demonstrations.

      Something that is missing from a lot of press on the tent protests is the long history of Mizrahi communities’ engagement in the struggle for fair and affordable housing, and many of these political responses to economic hardship have included analysis of the occupation and direct acts of solidarity with Palestinians.

      The Black Panthers in the 70s met with the PLO. The tent movement of the 80s, begun by Mizrahi communities facing eviction and displacement actively resisted the government’s policy of relocating them to the settlements. Its slogan was, כסף לשכונות, לא להתנחלויות (money for hoods, not for settlements).

      Now, there are joint demonstrations between the (mostly Mizrahi) residents of Hatikva neighborhood and Jaffa. The two neighborhoods came out with a specific declaration which puts their struggles as Mizrahim and Palestinians living within the State of Israel at the center. Isn’t this exactly what critics of the tent protests are looking for, and need to support?

      To leave out these stories prevents one from getting a full picture of the complexity of what is happening. To leave out these stories under that image is offensive.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben Israel

      One of the early Black Panthers, former Member of the Knesset Charlie Biton has completely backtracked on his support for recognizing the PLO and says the Oslo Agreements were a fraud.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Deïr Yassin

      I wonder why a self-proclaimed right-winger and pro-settler as Ben Israel gives any credit to Charlie Biton, a founding member and leader of the Black Panthers, former MK for Hadash, i.e. everything Ben Israel despises.
      I didn’t find anything on the net about Charlie Biton and his declarations concerning neither the PLO nor the Oslo Agreements (maybe it’s only in Hebrew or in Ben Israel’s imagination) but I found this:
      “My vision realized after 40 years”

      Reply to Comment