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Really, why? It's noisy, sometimes dirty, it may even, God help us, cause traffic jams. Tires may even be burned, and in extreme cases, things even get a little violent. It disturbs the peace and wrecks the public order, polluting the air and souring the atmosphere. So why do we need protest, anyway?

The common perception of protests in Israel is that of an irritating public nuisance - superfluous, party-wrecking, wrong and illegal. Only rarely can Israel stomach a demonstration, provided it's a properly organized popular rally, a cultural gathering on a square, obviously with a license from the police. We hear Israeli songs on the PA system, a message from the president at the podium, and only after the end of Shabbat, in good weather.

The protests should be on issues everyone can agree on; either Gilad Shalit or the Rabin assassination, an excellent subject for Israeli protests. Only these two can you demonstrate about and still hope for popular support. This is our civil society and this is the degree of its involvement.

Governments don't like protests, and this is only natural. In Israel, the public doesn't like protests either, which is seriously disconcerting. Any protest here is met with a hostile reaction from the decent public. Protest? Yuck. Whether it's right or wrong, we're better off without it. So any protest at all, minus Shalit and Rabin, is met immediately with a violent reaction from the authorities, who enjoy the backing of much of the media and public.

A rabbi wouldn't come to a police questioning? Get him! A young man throws stones at the police and doesn't hurt anyone? Eight months behind bars (unless of course he's a settler ). A women's rights activist "interrupts traffic"? Suspended sentence. And of course, a bunch of activists trying to demonstrate in Gaza or the West Bank prompts a hysterical deployment of forces. Anything but protests, thank you very much. We're Israelis and we don't know what democracy is about.

Protests are not only legitimate - they're vital. They're unpleasant and not nice, and they're not always perfectly legal. They can't be any of these things, after all; they're meant to disrupt, not preserve, the existing order. That's what they're for. It's almost embarrassing to write things like this that should be obvious.

A true protest stems from an outpouring of rage, something that hardly ever occurs at protests here. The test of a protest is its righteousness, not its means. Rabbi Dov Lior shouldn't be put on trial for conducting his own sort of protest and refusing to show up for questioning; the rabbi should only be judged for preaching about the killing of Gentile children, not his failure to arrive at a police station - but the important and the marginal have been reversed in this affair.

Virtually the only question that should be asked is: In the name of what? Does Lior protest in favor of killing children? The protest should be condemned. Do draft objectors protest against the killing of children? Their protest is commendable. Do settlers protest in support of a landgrab? Their protest is criminal. Do women break the law in their fight against the imprisonment of a neighboring nation? Their protest is commendable, and to hell with the means they use. The law cannot be above everything if it discriminates and does wrong.

A boycott is also a legitimate instrument, as long as it's for a worthy cause. Even Israel admits it: It boycotts Hamas, Turkey, even overpriced cottage cheese. But boycotting fruits and vegetables from the settlements? This is already illegal, as of this week. History is full of protesters and lawbreakers who became icons. The protests of the blacks against apartheid in South Africa and of their brothers against racial discrimination in the United State were not law-abiding protests. We bow our heads to them in deep appreciation.

One day, Israelis may yet bow their heads to the few protesters, boycotters and lawbreakers here, when they understand that their weapons were legitimate and their cause was right, even when they made noise in the quiet hours between 2 and 4 P.M.