October 21, 2011
Israeli summer: Hoping for change, calling for violence [WEB EXCLUSIVE]
Voices: Showcasing different voices from the community
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,” John F. Kennedy wisely put forth in a 1962 speech. As I write this, the Occupy Wall Street movement is in full swing, and I can’t help but be reminded of my summer covering the social and economic protests in Israel.
I arrived in the southern Israeli town of Sderot at the beginning of August to begin working on a documentary following the “Israeli Summer” social movement. I was blown away by the hundreds of thousands of people actively rallying against the economic and political status quo. It seemed as though every town I traveled through had a tent city—the ubiquitous emblem of the cause. These weren’t just Ashkenazim from the wealthy, developed center, but an ethnic, religious, and political chop suey of people from all sorts of backgrounds.
Story continues after the jump.
When I arrived in Israel, I was naively idealistic. It took me less than one week to realize that despite the fervent but peaceful way in which Israeli citizens protested the economic status quo and lack of social equality, the only overarching consensus was that no major social reforms could come to fruition until Israeli citizens died. Not just a few, but enough to shake the government out of its coma, was the expressed sentiment.
I was horrified to repeatedly hear this morbid maxim uttered by Hawks, Doves, and Anarchists alike. Solidarity meant nothing other than the illusion of a unified Israel, when in the minds of many Israelis, they were just as divided as ever—the only unifying theme among the protestors was the belief that violence was the only true avenue for change.
The first time I heard this expressed was as my friend and I were walking down the semi-deserted streets in Be’er Sheva after the August 13th rally—a rally that drew approximately 25,000 people, and ended at midnight with a heartfelt crowd-wide rendition of “Hatikvah.”
I innocently asked my friend if he thought the protests would change anything, and without missing a beat, he said, “Honestly? Nothing will change until someone dies, or a lot of people die. It takes death for the government to act. That’s how it has always been, and I think that this is no different.”
Weren’t these rallies so peaceful because they were supposed to stand out in stark contrast to the violent Arab Spring erupting all around Israel? Was all of this talk of solidarity and community a farce?
No, it wasn’t. But the movement wasn’t coming strictly from a place of unbridled hope and altruism either.
The undercurrent of negativity also became clear when I interviewed young adults at the Sderot tent city, who turned out to be working journalists and media and marketing students.
I was led to a folding chair, and was instantly made the makeshift moderator of a debate between approximately a dozen protestors. It was an unusual first interview, but it allowed me to hear the discussion at large, rather than from one person at a time, and it gave me a greater understanding of the movement.
I was impressed by the restraint everyone showed when they disagreed with each other, and the real surprise was just how much they disagreed about important things. Like what the protest was about. To this day, there is no consensus on exactly what people were rallying together for other than the amorphous “economic and social problem.”
Sounds familiar to Americans now, doesn’t it?
Although hope was ever-apparent in the protest activities in Israel this summer, that sentiment was frequently tinged with the fatalistic notion that peaceful protests could never make enough of an impact to actually change society.
There is a scene in the musical, “Les Miserables,” the morning after a student uprising is extinguished. The women who are left behind sadly sing:
“Nothing changes, nothing ever will…”
I hope that something good does comes out of this movement—the only other alternative, one that resembles the Arab Spring—is much too sinister to imagine.