by Victoria Alice Nguyen
Last Saturday I sat in my apartment in Katamon/Jerusalem, only a few hundred meters linear-distance from King George St., awaiting the protest which was announced for the evening.
I was not sure what to expect from the March of the Million. Surely there was no way a utopian number that high could be reached – de facto Israel only has a population of 7.7 million.
During my time here I have come to learn that cynicism is a frequent guest in the spotlight of the Israeli media: It is a strategy of survival. Again it was cynicism which took the floor after the terror attacks in Eilat two weeks ago: It seemed to have been a good timing in that the government around Benjamin Netanyahu was able to silence the voices asking for a budget-cut in the defense force. As a matter of fact, the recent terror attack took away some of the dynamics of the protests against social injustice, which has lasted for over seven weeks now. The enraged Israeli people were on the verge of falling back into old patterns of acquiescence. After all security is the highest priority in Israel.
But for all that, my concerns about people staying away from the protest have been proven wrong. The owner of the mini-market next to my house had it on Channel 10: People were crowding the streets of Tel Aviv from 5:50 pm onwards.
Grabbing my Israeli roommate, I quickly walked up Gaza St., passing the official residence of Benjamin Netanyahu. From there we already heard the chanting crowd moving up from Ben Yehuda St. It was overwhelming to see all those people: It didn’t matter whether young or old; family or single; student or retired. They all came to demonstrate saying: We are not done yet! This is not over!
The atmosphere was very peaceful; just like other previous demonstrations. I spotted young parents pushing strollers with toddlers who held up signs, demanding a future for their sake. I’ve been getting used to the immense creativity and fine humor of the Israelis, but this struck me once again as I saw housewives banging cooking pans with wooden spoons, boys playing with whistles, a group of people from the Negev came all the way up to Jerusalem to chant: “My Bibi has three apartments, and hadn’t he three apartments, then maybe I’d have one, too”. I saw people putting the old state of Israel to the grave: Carrying burial wreaths. Marvelous!
The Israeli unemployment rate is only 5,5% - with the economy growing further. Yet the people feel treated unjustly and cut off from the economic growth as they are the foundation of society, but don’t seem to profit from it. As far as I can judge it, most of the protestors are part of the middle class: Teachers, doctors, office workers, young families and students who suffer from high taxation and the military service. We strolled around the peacefully moving crowd and I got the feeling that the people weren’t only marching for what initially started out as a demand against high living costs: They were marching for mobility on Shabbat, smaller school classes, an affordable higher education, environmental issues – the movement has room for any social topic. Only a few voices dare to be political and demand the end of the settlements in the West Bank. Some protestors around me call for Benjamin Netanyahu to leave his office. Others look away, embarrassed about what they hear.
This movement is diverse, it has a spectrum. But what brings them together is their endurance, their common belief in a better future.
The government around Benjamin Netanyahu quickly promised to reform the system and to design a committee, which will discuss changes in the economical policies. This is not the end of the social change yet, it is a milestone – not more but neither less.