In a way, it was like a Friday afternoon family gathering – complete with the annoying relatives. Yes, the provocateurs were there. I saw them in the distance upon arrival: a cluster of Israeli flags. At first I failed to recognize them. The Israeli flag has not yet been entirely confiscated by the fascist right. There were a few of them flown nearby, by such Zionist-left entities as the Meretz political party.
Those distant flags, however, belonged to “Im Tirzu”. A highly chauvinistic group of the Israeli extreme right who opted to join the march and claim “rights for Israelis”. It is typical for the enemies of democracy to take advantage of democracy itself, gain power through it, then cause it to disintegrate. “Im Tirzu” announced their intention to take part in the annual march organized by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). The association, which fights for freedom of speech among other causes, could not deny them the right or it would be blamed for hypocrisy.
So the fascists came, but police, fearing conflict, treated their presence as a counter-demonstration and isolated them in the back. Their activists were not allowed into Rabin Square, where the rally ended with speeches and music. Moreover, their provocation lost its steam thanks to the presence of at least one far more exciting group. The African asylum seekers (referred to in the Israeli media and by most local politicians as “infiltrators”) came by the multitude and brought astounding energies with them. They certainly stole the show.
In the end, what was most moving was the combination of civil organizations all working to better this place. Some groups considered as poles within the spectrum of the left, such as the “National Left” and “Anarchists against Walls” marched side by side. In between were countless other groups: “Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity”, “Rabbis for Human Rights”, “Combatants for Peace”, “The Bereaved Families Forum”, LGBT organizations, labor unions, political parties, et al.
The Israeli left, which suffered a great blow since the second intifada, must recover quickly in the wake of fascism. This week, further dour developments occurred. Fifty rabbis signed a letter forbidding Jews from selling or renting property to Arabs. While the parade took place, soldiers were shooting a copious amount of tear gas on non-violent demonstrators in the village of Ni’ilin. Things most certainly are deteriorating here, which is why seeing us unite was so moving.
Indeed, the statements of 130 organizations participating in the march are diverse, but there is at least one light we can follow: the concept of human rights. the target audience of today’s march were its own participants. We saw that we are a multitude, that we get along well, that we are not afraid and we can make a difference. Yes, a sudden rainstorm did scatter people out of the square right as things were coming to a close, but even brave people don’t see a reason to get drenched.
I saw the bravest people I know at that parade today, from nobler author and ACRI leader Sami Michael, to Amal A-Sana al-Hajouj, a Bedouin female activist who spoke of the demolished village of Al-Araqib and its relation to the other struggles. Al Hajouj said she asked Michael whether he was moved by the occasion. “If I weren’t,” he said, “that would mean that I no longer care for these issues.” I too, was moved, and so were 10,000 other participants, all of them allies in difficult and challenging times.