March of the Million - Moti Milrod - 3.9.2011
'March of the Million' rally in Tel Aviv, Sept. 3, 2011. Photo by Moti Milrod
Text size

The biggest, the most impressive - even if not the most enthusiastic or most furious. The State of Israel, or at least the State of Tel Aviv, turned out on the square Saturday almost as if a single being. Every age group and gender, even if not almost every ethnic community, and also not every social class.

The abject poor, the ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs and the downtrodden, the real homeless and the migrant laborers were not there Saturday night. But the placid north of Tel Aviv was full of noise. The slumbering north had come to life. On Saturday I met people for whom this was their first time in a very long while at a demonstration. The last of the complacent decided that they, too, had to show up.

They came in their masses to be there. And that's where it happened Saturday night, at the most correct location, without perhaps even noticing it. After passing the government and Defense Ministry offices, the protest march proceeded to the rich people's square. There is nothing like Kikar Hamedina as a symbol of Israel's piggish capitalism.

In ordinary times, it's the huge fancy SUVs of the wealthy that park there, cars with price tags almost approaching the cost of an apartment, double parked, so their owners can go on their shopping sprees at the square's scandalous prices. On a regular day, you can buy a Prada purse here for the equivalent of at least three months' minimum wage or a luxury watch at the equivalent of an average year's rent.

Yet it was here, actually here last night, that they shouted slogans for social justice and it looked like even some of the square's customers were among the throng, however sheepishly.

Even the Kadima party was represented, not sheepishly, as befits it: "The country is sick in the head," said placards from this most irrelevant party, which suddenly tried to hitch a ride and make political hay as if they were the lowest of the bottled water vendors. And it was actually Ahmed Tibi, who arrived in the company of Daniel Ben Simon, who was received respectfully.

In the square, which Tel Aviv never really knew what to do with, that the people gathered in huge numbers. A quarter of a million of them, more or less. The stores ringing the square with all their foreign names - Zara, Burberry, Escada - looked more forlorn than they ever had. And wonder of wonders, some of the buildings themselves were plastered with protest signs. That's how wide-ranging the protest was, with their occupants standing on their balconies, joining the demonstration from afar, however cautiously. One penthouse even had a sign protesting privatization of government services, imagine that.

The street is called 5th of Iyar, the Hebrew date of Israel's independence and it was indeed the biggest demonstration in Israel's history since that first 5th of Iyar in 1948. Some day it will even be studied by schoolchildren, once the days of the current education minister, Gideon Sa'ar are over, and when the study is no longer focused on the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Auschwitz in Poland.

One day, the students will learn that on this momentous evening, a civil society was born in Israel. A truly historic event.