The mass demonstrations have ended and most of the tents have gone. But the social protest that mesmerized Israel this summer is just beginning. Six activists from the front lines of the struggle talk about what's ahead.
Racheli Yosef, Netanya
23, divorced with one child, a student in Education for Social Justice, Environmental Justice and Peace at the Seminar Hakibbutzim College of Education. Manager of a legal firm.
Joining About a month and a half ago. A week after the encampment was set up on Rothschild in Tel Aviv, I felt I had to be an emissary too. I set up the first encampment in Netanya with a friend, at the Poleg Junction.
Today I still come to the encampment often. I don’t sleep there as I did at first, because I had to go back to work, but I’m still active at meetings there. On the national level I’m a member of a periphery forum that focuses on the demands of groups that are not represented in the struggle, the weaker groups. There are over 30 encampments in the forum and I coordinate activities with Dr. Hani Zubida [from the Interdisciplinary Center] and other friends. This isn’t the first struggle I’m participating in. For a long time I’ve also belonged to a group of young people in Netanya working to bring about change in the treatment of weaker populations in the city. The national struggle gave us support and today we’re doing it with redoubled vigor. Many people from the protest joined and will demand better education in the veteran neighborhoods of the city, new construction and improvement of infrastructure on the local level.
The high point It still hasn’t arrived.
The low point Right now. The aggressive evacuation of the encampments, the forced dismantling. The week of the silent rally was also hard for me. For a moment it seemed that the security issue was once again undercutting us.
Achievements The important thing, which many people don’t notice, is the change in awareness among the citizens. The dirt under the rug is coming out. People who have kept things inside for over 50 years got the strength to go out and shout. Raising awareness of social issues and placing the discussion of these issues above the security discussion for over a month is an achievement that may not be obvious. Another accomplishment is the awakening of outlying areas, the weaker groups in society, people who have finally understood that they are allowed to make demands. I can say that in the future the stop sign that citizens placed before the government is an attempt to take the economy back into their own hands. The boycotts of Tnuva, Supersol − these are only examples. After all, we knew that consumer power is strong and we knew that this is a democracy, but we didn’t do anything about it. Suddenly we’ve made a decision − that paying NIS 12 for rice is unacceptable. That’s a statement. We opposed Supersol, Mega and other chains, and they lowered prices. Suddenly there’s activity. I’m not saying that I’m optimistic and that the economic system in Israel will change tomorrow, but with small successes we will be able to take the economy back into our own hands and we’ll be able to demand better education, affordable public housing.
Looking ahead The tents long ago stopped being the protest. They are a symbol engraved on the banner of the struggle, but no more than that. At the most recent rally we ended that part of the struggle; we were in the streets, we caused the bang. Now we’re in the second stage, demanding implementation; for them to give something. There are lots of local activities, there’s the national protest, there are local protests. We’re working with the Netanya municipality to get housing for 500 families. And even after that, I won’t be able to say that when we reach a certain point I’ll fold up the tent and go. People went out into the streets in order to begin a very long process that will take up most of the time of those who believe in social justice, in order to engage in affirmative action, so that maybe all of our children will really have a different economic policy and a future. We’re realistic. Nobody will channel the taxes to social needs starting tomorrow, but a process has begun whose finish line is very far off.
Yaniv Kakon, Ashdod
31, married, works all over the country for the Institute for Democratic Education in Israel, specializing in informal education
Joining I joined as soon as I could. I actually finished reserve duty on a Friday, a week and a half after the start of the national struggle, and a week after the encampment in Ashdod was set up. I arrived at the encampment straight from the army, with my duffel bag. I joined the struggle for two main reasons. In principle, I felt that finally − after 10 years when I’ve been talking about these subjects with anyone who wanted to, as well as people who didn’t − there is a great awakening within the community. For the first time here, there was a community call to go out and unite. On the personal level, I went to protest because I understood long ago that to be a young person in this country is difficult to impossible. We have two salaries above the minimum and even then it’s hard for me to see how we can bring a child into the world in a responsible way. Both my mind and my heart led me to go out and join the protest.
Today The encampment in Ashdod in effect no longer exists, but activity continues. We have changed tactics, and during the coming weeks there will be popular gatherings. I am one of the four moderators of these gatherings in Ashdod. We’re calling on the broad communal family; we’re calling on people to come to talk and listen and bring the living room discussion back to the street.
The high point For me the most significant moment of the struggle thus far was when 2,500 people took to the streets in Ashdod with a determined statement and a demand for social justice. Ashdod hasn’t experienced such a demonstration in 30 years, and certainly not such a large-scale awakening. And in addition to the presence of those 2,500 people, behind them stood a network of thousands of volunteers who did everything possible to make it happen, and all out of a desire for social solidarity and an interest in the other. These are things that were not self-evident in Israel until the summer of 2011.
The low point It was very hard for me to dismantle the encampment. Four days before we did it we decided to do it as a community. That was not a simple decision. For me it was the most difficult decision, far beyond the ideological or political debates. The tent was a symbol. It will certainly remain a symbol, but in Ashdod it had no right to exist beyond that. We decided to return home and meet as a community once a week.
Accomplishments Good, productive cooperation was created between the mayor’s office and the tent dwellers. We will reap the fruits of that later on. Not only as encampment dwellers or a particular population group. It will have a sweeping effect on all the residents. In addition, public discourse on the local level has changed. People in the street are allowing themselves to talk about economic and social issues, in addition to the usual conversations about the security situation. The politicians have opened their ears and understood that this is what the public feels, and now they’ll have to see what they do with it, as leaders.
Looking ahead In the short term, I would like the 2012 budget to be reopened for discussion. Not necessarily to break the framework, but to change the order of priorities. At the same time, over the long term I would like a continuation of the popular meetings, the kind that influence the public mood, and of course the tactics and strategy of national politics too. In a utopian world I would like to reach a situation in which Israeli society operates as a democratic society with a democratic culture, and not only at the polls. In the schools, in the neighborhoods, in the establishment and in dealings with it. We’re talking about a culture rather than a procedure.
Uri Shehori, Sderot
28, married, basketball coach, starting a career in communications after completing his internship at IDF Radio recently
Joining I moved to the encampment a day after the demonstration of the 30,000 that took place in Tel Aviv. I traveled to demonstrate in Tel Aviv; I came to feel what was happening. At the same time I heard that my classmates had put up a tent in Sderot. During the demonstration I called and told them I was coming the next day. From that day on I was deeply involved in the events. I began to read the business supplements. The basic values of the protest are clear to me. I connected to the concept of social justice, but during the early days it was important to me to understand the broader picture. I read everything I could on the subject. I learned economic concepts that I had thought were intolerable and boring. I have a lot to learn, but they have already become part of my daily discourse. For me, this is the essential moment. To understand the depth. I’ve woken up.
Today Nobody is sleeping in the Sderot encampment any more. A tent is a symbol. Not the essence. Now we’re at the stage of building a municipal parliament in Sderot, with the goal of taking the factors that affect life in the city and gathering them under one umbrella. That’s how you build a community, a concept that is almost unknown in Hebrew. We’ve been sprinting, and now we have to take a deep breath in order to continue. It’s a struggle over awareness, education, community, over tomorrow and a future, and if we’re talking about a future it can’t be changed overnight. By its very nature, a protest comes from young people, but belatedly, sectors that until now were absent from the public discussion of these issues are joining. My mother went out to demonstrate for the first time in her life. Apparently it caught on with older people all over the country. I was raised on a belief that I now reject, a belief that it’s impossible to change things. We have to educate a generation with awareness that things can be changed.
The high point There were lots of significant moments during the past month and a half, but I was most excited when my mother told me she was coming to the demonstration. I also had a meeting with a couple in Sderot who hosted me so nicely. They live in a small Amidar apartment with five children. At first they weren’t involved, but they offered help with electricity and other logistical matters. When we were at the demonstration in Be’er Sheva, somebody told me they had come to be part of the group. I felt that they came because we had talked to them. For me that was the most highly distilled moment in the entire struggle.
The low point There were many tough moments. We really wanted to have a rally in Sderot, but when the latest security problems began we understood that it was impossible, because it’s impossible to take responsibility for a collection of people in one place in Sderot under such circumstances. That was a difficult moment. After all, our entire objective was to allow this city not to talk but to shout, and we couldn’t. A feeling of a terrible missed opportunity that can’t be repaired and changed.
Accomplishments The most important thing is that people are talking differently. [The protest] connects people. They no longer see themselves as a group of individuals. There’s a sense of power, a sense of togetherness. Take me, for example − up until two months ago there was no place in my life for economic concepts. Today I understand that every decision made in Jerusalem affects me in the end. We deserve more. We hid for years behind an authority that is no longer relevant. Today there’s a feeling that we deserve something in return, and we’re not ashamed to demand it.
Looking ahead The real victory will be when there are genuine values here, when the citizens of the country absorb the values of the protest. When we live the concepts of social justice on a daily basis. Justice between people. Fair distribution. Not one at the expense of the other. I pray that I will get to live in a world in which all these things happen. I’m skeptical, but I’ll do everything possible so that the values of this protest will really filter down. In the utopian world there are no equal rights, in the end people are all different. I want equality of opportunity. I don’t want [businessman Yitzhak] Tshuva’s money, but I want my children to have the same opportunities.
Aya Shoshan, Tel Aviv
27, single, received her bachelor’s degree in the United States in political ethics and economics. Worked until recently at the Toledo International Center for Peace in Madrid.
Joining I joined on the second day of the struggle. I had just returned from Spain. I drove home from the airport, put down my suitcases and immediately joined the encampment. In Spain I was involved in the demonstrations that erupted on May 15. There I joined the international committee that made contact with protest headquarters all over the world. Naturally I made contact with Israeli activists, so that I knew in advance about Daphni [Leef]’s happening on Rothschild Boulevard and about other protest groups that organized before the summer.
Today I’m concentrating on organizing neighborhood meetings in Tel Aviv and developing an Internet platform that’s supposed to enable a process of reaching a consensus on the Internet for the general public. The site (ldemos.org) was launched just recently, and at the moment I’m busy mainly writing papers and formulating positions. On the site we’re working with various protest groups that have arisen all over the country. We go out to them, gather information and content that was created during the protest, with the objective of posting everything on the site.
The high point The most significant moment for me was the first meeting I attended of representatives from encampments on the periphery. I’m referring to the social periphery and not necessarily the geographical one. Something amazing happened there, a meeting among various population groups from various places in Israel and from various cultural and social backgrounds, and everyone reached the understanding that there are problems that affect everyone and there is a common need to solve them. There they overcame rifts that have torn our society apart for years, and I personally was very moved by that. I understood that whatever happens, and no matter how great the opposition on the part of the government, citizens have started to understand that they have the power and that they can change the situation in which we live. I understood that nobody can take away what happened here, not even the government. For me personally, the encounter and the unity of the public were important. Beyond the discourse, it was important to me to see that it’s possible to reach a consensus.
The low point There were many difficult and frustrating moments. At one of the meetings I attended on Rothschild Boulevard during the first or second week of the protest, there was a good, profound discussion among many participants. And then came a group of men who burst in and actually threatened that if they didn’t get the microphone they would adopt violent tactics. It didn’t help that we tried to explain about polite speech and about values like democracy. I also tried talking to them, but they were violent and actually tried to dominate the discussion by force. I stood at the side for a moment and simply burst out crying. Usually I really believe that everyone can sit and talk. And that was the kind of thing I thought maybe would no longer happen.
Accomplishments You could say that the protest has already led to many accomplishments. First there is the change in the discourse. This change contains within it a change in the order of priorities, and that can already be seen, for example, in the encampments in Kikar Hamedina, Ben-Gurion Boulevard and in dozens of other places in the country. Many people there decided not to evacuate the encampment until a solution is found for the homeless. The so-called middle class who may have started out with a battle to lower their rents, or in order to be able to purchase an apartment at a sane price, remained on the site out of solidarity and social unity.
Looking ahead The goal is that the people have direct influence on legislation and its implementation. That means nothing will happen without public involvement; they won’t make any more deals that affect everyone’s lives, like coalition agreements behind closed doors, without the people being able to voice criticism about it. It’s a long process, to which the protesters in Spain, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia and many other countries aspire.
Loni Natanson, Kiryat Shmona encampment
30, single, from Kibbutz Kfar Szold, studies alternatives in education and philosophy at Tel-Hai Academic College. For the past two years has been coordinating the social welfare activities in the Tel-Hai and Beit Hillel Student Union
Joining We started the encampment in Kiryat Shmona five days after the encampment in Tel Aviv. We were motivated by what was happening in Tel Aviv. We felt that it was something big. We have experience with struggles; in the context of the Student Union we’ve participated in battles over equal distribution, workers’ rights, etc. I have participated in several battles in recent years, but I saw that this time it was something different, far more meaningful and inclusive. I joined without a second thought.
Today We are organizing delegations to schools in the region. Representatives from the encampment are going into homeroom classes and talking with the students about the protest. At first we took the initiative with the schools; today we are mostly responding to their requests. In addition, we are operating a stall in the municipal market in Kiryat Shmona, explaining the protest and encouraging discussions. We’re conducting meetings in kibbutzim and meetings with senior citizens and veterans in the Galilee. On the most basic level, we’re encouraging people to talk, developing social awareness among residents of the region to connect them to the protest, to their rights, to what they’re entitled to, and giving them a sense of belonging to a community.
On the district level we’re participating in meetings of the Northern Front, which is composed of representatives of 25 encampments from Kiryat Shmona to Zichron Yaakov. This includes representatives of varied populations: Christians, Muslims, Druze, Jews, representatives of veteran communities, young people, etc. During the past two months we’ve been working in coordination and helping one another in terms of logistics. For the most recent mass rally, we brought over 100,000 people into the streets from the entire Northern Front.
The high point Last Saturday night there were about 1,000 round-table discussions. I led one of them. Next to me sat the principal of a democratic school, next to him a released prisoner from Kiryat Shmona, an anarchist, a kibbutznik, students of social work, a resident of the region. Every one of them conducted an organized and practical discourse about what bothers them and what has to be improved. For me that was the essence of the matter and it was amazing and moving.
The low point I’m an optimist by nature and I didn’t experience moments of despair or low points. I had great fears about the future of the struggle when representatives of the Student Union announced their departure from the encampments. On the emotional level I found that difficult, as did many residents of the encampments.
Accomplishments The public discourse that has changed and begun to discuss social issues. Everywhere it became the center of discussions, from Friday night meals to school classrooms and conversations in the waiting rooms of the Kupat Holim health services. That’s the most significant and important change.
Looking ahead I don’t see this struggle ending any time soon. I also see my future in social and educational activity, so I believe that in the future I’ll continue to be active in the areas in which I was involved even before the protest. I hope to be a part of that and to help. It’s a never-ending process.
Sagi Yaakovi, Petah Tikva
28, in a relationship, student of economics and business administration,
works on launching branches of a cafe chain.
Joining A few days after the first encampment was set up on Rothschild, I joined the protest. I couldn’t decide whether to join the encampment in Tel Aviv or to start one in Petah Tikva. In the end, together with friends, we decided to set up an encampment in our city too. I joined because I can’t make ends meet. My partner and I are thinking of getting married. We both have good salaries, but can’t manage.
Today We’re no longer sleeping in the encampment, but we go there every day and engage in activities related to the struggle. Almost every day we stay there until the small hours of the morning. In Petah Tikva, the situation is that only people who have nowhere to go are living in the encampment, and we won’t leave until a solution is found for them. We set up the encampment near the mall and the Sirkin Junction park. At first there wasn’t much of a response. We walked around the city and called on people to join, but we encountered a lot of apathy.
Then we came across the encampment of the Ethiopian community, which was set up in a different part of the city. We immediately joined them and they moved with their encampment to ours. Today it’s a place composed of various and sundry populations and communities. At the moment I feel that I’m there mainly for the others, for people with daily problems, for those who are entitled to public housing and have been on waiting lists for years, people who haven’t had an easy life until now.
The high point Although this is a city that is closely identified with the middle class, in Petah Tikva there was very little response to joining the protest. It was a daily battle to get people out of the house. But at the rally we held on Saturday night three weeks ago, we organized a very big march and almost 3,000 people came. This can’t be taken for granted in a city like Petah Tikva. It’s hard for me to explain, but this is a very apathetic city, although most of its residents suffer from all the problems that middle-class people suffer from in Israel. It was an amazing moment to see those thousands in the streets.
The low point Before the last rally, there were many moments when the tension dropped as a result of spending time in the encampment every day while at the same time working and trying to conduct daily life as usual. Sometimes I had the feeling that it wouldn’t work. I was pessimistic, but the masses that left their homes gave us a lot of inspiration.
Accomplishments The first thing is the change in awareness. Until now we accepted as a fact of life that we have to fight every month for our survival here. We do military service, we do reserve duty, we pay insane taxes, high tuition, fulfill obligations, but we work around the clock and don’t see light ahead − we’re going down instead of looking ahead.
Looking ahead This is a struggle over the face of Israeli society. A struggle over creating equal opportunities for all the individuals living here. During the first stage it has to end with the government taking concrete action to make decent housing available to all citizens, subsidize academic studies, help the weak. After all, that’s supposed to be the interest of the country. The struggle will end only after there is a genuine and all-inclusive change.