Great Expectations / Activism / Idan Pink, 31
In the summer there was a feeling the discourse was changing, but Pink thinks this was a fleeting achievement.
It's noon on a Wednesday on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard. The cafes are packed, bicyclists are pedaling away, people are strolling by. Idan Pink, a leader of the social-protest movement in Jerusalem last summer, watches indifferently.
"It doesn't pain me to see the boulevard without tents and activists," she says. "After all, this is how it is, this is the way the boulevard really looks. The protest didn't do anything, didn't change anything. If anything, it just gave more power to those who aren't socially minded and don't believe in social justice, like the prime minister."
In the summer there was a feeling that the discourse had changed, but Pink thinks this was a fleeting achievement. "The discourse didn't really change. People continue to blame the poor for their poverty. The Trajtenberg Committee didn't change a thing. Where's the free-education law? The public-housing law? We mounted the most impressive protest in the world in terms of the percentage of participation, public support and nonviolence, and we didn't achieve anything. Unfortunately, that's the message."
She admits that at first she too was skeptical. "In the protest's first week I didn't really connect with it," she laughs. "It looked like a middle-class struggle led by a girl from the upper class. Not the kind of protest that addresses real wrongs." But the protest reached Jerusalem, tents went up and Pink was persuaded. "I took on the role of coordinating between the homeless families' tent encampment and the students' site."
A tour guide by profession, Pink has a BA in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a diploma in photography from the Musrara School of Art in Jerusalem. She lives in a rented apartment in the city.
Her parents "are a fusion of East and West," she says. Her father is an English-born lawyer; her mother, of Kurdish descent, is an Education Ministry inspector. When she was a child the family spent four years in Britain and then lived in Ma'aleh Adumim in the West Bank and then in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot.
"To find housing solutions for the tent dwellers who are entitled to public housing, we liberated abandoned houses in Jerusalem," she says. "After the March of the Million, the students left and only the homeless remained in the streets. So far we've liberated four abandoned buildings." But the new tenants were quickly evacuated.
For Pink, the summer of 2011 brought back memories of the Second Lebanon War. "I served almost five years in the army as an infantry officer, and when the war broke out I was called up for reserve duty," she says, shattering the image that all protest leaders were conscientious objectors.
"For the first time I understood what war really is, how we soldiers are just pawns.
Pink started to learn Arabic and to take a more activist approach in her tour-guide work. She developed ties with Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
She's currently active in a group that runs the website Hamaabara (The Transit Camp ) for housing rights in Jerusalem. "It's a platform that documents a struggle," she says. "When we liberated houses we were beaten and forcibly evacuated, but the media took no interest. We realized we needed a platform to make our voice heard. We named the site Hamaabara because even if there are no transit camps in Israel today the apparatus of suppression and dispossession still exists."
What can we expect next year?
"We're not out to be leaders. The Rothschild Boulevard leadership model failed. We want to learn from the experience of other struggles and from our own experience, and to generate a succession of struggles .... The situation won't be changed in the voting booths but by people active on the ground. Politicians don't change reality, they just fudge it. The only way to achieve change is to create a different reality by taking concrete action .... But the activists are in a tough spot now. There's a feeling of despair, of creeping indifference."
Do you believe the struggle will stay nonviolent?
"People talk about how not one stone was thrown, but everyone understands that one will finally be thrown. It's obvious that there will be violence here .... I prefer to stick with naive thinking, but the establishment is sowing despair by ignoring the protest and using violence in evacuating the homeless, in removing demonstrators in the West Bank and in Tel Aviv. This isn't something that's going to go away by itself."