15,000 people protesting against the occupation and for peace in Tel Aviv. That is a lot of people. Not compared to other eras in Israeli history: some estimate that 400,000 gathered in Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli-sanctioned massacre in Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982. But certainly compared to the last month and a half, and even the last few years: Israeli journalist Haggai Matar, whose intuition I trust much more than any media or police estimate, not least because he is actually there at most of these protests, wrote in his post about the protest (Here, in Hebrew) that he doesn’t remember a demonstration of this size that focused on ending the occupation and took place in a Jewish or mixed city since 2009 (during Operation Cast Lead- when there was no +972 Magazine, no Sikha Mekomit, and I was but a political zygote, ie., a non-blogging non-demonstrating college Sophomore in Vermont: as such, I’m having trouble finding a good link about the Tel Aviv demos then, so just trust Haggai along with me. And check out the +972 Magazine report on last night’s protest to which Haggai and I contributed via Twitter).
Anyway. I went to this demonstration with some skepticism in tow: Meretz and Peace Now, two of the co-sponsors along with Hadash, the Bereaved Families Forum, Combatants for Peace and Other Voice, had been unwilling to publicly co-organize any of the demonstrations while the war was going on, presumably for fear that they would be labelled “too left,” (an odd fear coming from groups whose very mandates come from their claims to be Israel’s Left Wing Party and an movement that calls for Peace, Now, not after the war is over…) But Hadash had, and the Bereaved Families Forum had, and Other Voice had, and I was curious and open. Trying a new post-form, I’m going to retell the Twitter Tale I Told here (if this makes for unpleasant/unclear reading, let me know, and I shalln’t do it again. If it’s cool, lemme know as well):
(I guessed between 6 and 9 thousand in a tweet that failed to send)
Here Haggai framed it well:
Haggai noted in his Hebrew piece on Sikha Mekomit that Gal-On’s claim that Meretz was “against the war from the beginning” is a “a bit puzzling in light of the fact that Gal-On made sure to distance Meretz from the streets [protests] as long as the tanks were roaring.” With that, Haggai noted, as I did, the importance of Gal-On’s speaking out against the blockade, against the occupation and for negotiations with the Palestinian Unity government.
Here Haggai’s writing filled in my gaps once again: Right-wingers did want to come protest, organized by the rightist rapper HaTzel, or The Shadow, but they were kept so far away by the police that they were unhearable and unseeable. Critical of this decision, Haggai wrote: “The police need to find a way to allow every type of protest, and not decide that during war, it is forbidden to protest the war, or during a peace really, it is forbidden to protest in favor of war.” (I’m not sure whether I fully agree, given the violence that has stemmed from the same right-wing organizers’ protests over the past few weeks, but Haggai’s is an interesting argument and one worth taking seriously).
At this point, singer Ahinoam Nini took the stage, and said something so bizarre that I decided not to tweet it: “I believe that there is not a single soldier in the IDF that doesn’t want peace with all of his heart.” I started to fade from the demo, fearing that after Gal-On, Grossman and Barakeh, who all spoke really sharply and well, the evening was starting to crumble into the let-us-apologize-for-being-left-by-making-statements-that-could-not-possibly-be-even-close-to-true-about-any-group-in-the-world-let-alone-a-military part of the evening.
And then, all of a sudden, I find myself paying attention again. And not just paying attention like: OK, Rothman-Zecher, stop silly-tweeting and listen. Paying attention like: I haven’t heard someone speak like this in public in a very long time:
(Turns out she actually spells it Nomika in English, so we’d all misspelled it a bit. Nonetheless):
There were a few more components, including a screening of part of the Bereaved Families Forum powerful video:
And then, after asking the crowd for a moment of silence:
And then there were more speakers, and some more music, and at this point, people had begun trickling out, so I wrote a few short poems:
But not to end on a bad note, and putting silly quips aside, I actually felt like my morale was much higher than I’d expected it to be, and felt a surprising rush: maybe there is still a powerful opposition mobilizable here. Especially if we can give more space to voices like Nomika Zion’s:
Shirin Amrad then recommended I read her War Diaries from Sderot in 2009:
Which I did, which is highly recommended:
I am afraid of the Qassam rockets. Since the current war started I have hardly dared to go beyond the bounds of our street. But I am much more afraid of the inflammatory and monolithic public and media discourse that is impossible to penetrate. It scares me when a friend from the “Other Voice” is verbally attacked by other residents of Sderot while being interviewed and expressing a critical opinion about the war, and afterwards gets anonymous phone calls and is afraid to return to his car for fear that something will happen to him. It scares me that the other voice is such a small one and that it’s so hard to express it from here. I am prepared to pay the price of isolation but not the price of fear. (Read more)
So I ended the demonstration with the following feelings:
1. Too long (should have ended earlier) and too late (should have taken place when the war started, not only after it was over).
2. But because of its messaging and large attendance, better now than not at all: Serious anti-occupation and anti-government thrust, not timid, over 15 thousand people. All of those things are worth noting and appreciating.
3. Not high energy, not radical, not confrontational enough: but not despair-filled. And that is not a given, at all.
4. I am surprised about how much of the messaging I connected to, including from Peace Now and Meretz. I am still upset and disappointed that they were too timid to take part in the demonstrations during war-time, and I thus give more credit to and take more seriously the other co-sponsors, Hadash, Combatants for Peace, the Bereaved Families Forum and Other Voice, but it is worth noting that it did feel like there were shared values at the protest, which is also not a given.
5. I think this was good. I need time to think about it more. But that is what I think today.