Almost every car that drove on Saturday over the Youssef Bridge in the Hula Valley honked in sympathy, while from time to time a car stopped and its passengers shouted “only Bibi.” Under the bridge, dozens of people floated by in rubber boats or inflatable rafts, and on its edges a few demonstrators affiliated with the ‘Black Flag’ movement had gathered.
The organizer of the protest, Noga Ronen, shouted at the vacationers “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has relied all these years on the divide and conquer method. Trying to start a conflict between us.” Some responded, others just floated by.
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This was the fourth week that thousands of Israelis came out to protest at bridges and junctions throughout the country, and as weeks pass, the protests have grown. According to the movement leaders, this week there were protests in 200 locales. The demonstration at the Youssef Bridge began in the heat of the afternoon, to catch the attention of the boaters in the water.
Eldad Shoham, a member of Kibbutz Malkiya, has been coming to the protest for four weeks in a row, and says that what led him to join was the arrest of one of its leaders, Amir Haskel. “I was an armchair supporter,” he said, adding: “I’m 76 years old, with lots of medical problems. I was in favor of the young people joining.”
Shoham said he was “afraid for the State of Israel, for my sons and grandsons. What’s happening here now and over recent years has totally destroyed the government except for the courts. They do everything to serve one man who’s criminally accused and doesn’t want to act the way he himself recommended to Ehud Olmert years ago,” referring to Netanyahu’s call to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign as he faced corruption charges.
Amir Fitzer, who lives on Kibbutz Shamir, comes to the protest at the bridge every week. Yesterday he said he hoped “this would be the last week. We, as local people, don’t go down to the valley because it’s crowded, but he [Netanyahu] has managed to bring me out.”
At 5 P.M. a larger contingent could be seen at Gomeh junction south of Kiryat Shmona. About 200 people of varying ages had come to protest, creating a carnival atmosphere, with the noise of plastic horns, drums and children making signs. The protesters held signs like “we need new solidarity, you failed, resign,” and waved various flags – black flags, Israeli flags and LGBTQ pride flags. A bored policeman with nothing to do was in a patrol car on the side.
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Peter Izikovitz from Kibbutz Lahavot Habashan came with his wife Leslie and his two daughters, Tali and Maya. He’s a veteran protester, all the way back to his student days in South Africa, where he came out against apartheid. “I come from a family that fought for justice. Since Rabin’s murder I feel that something bad is happening in this country. For all the years that Bibi has been in the political field, everything has been going in the direction of rot, hatred and corruption. The people are in a lousy place.”
Tal, who lives and works at Kibbutz Merom Golan and is studying to be a Pilates instructor, came to the protest with her friends, all in their 30s, Dana, from Kibbutz Amiad and Yael from Karkom. “My mother is a regular protester,” Tal said with an embarrassed smile. “She sent me.” According to Tal, this is the first protest she’s ever attended. “I don’t like to protest, but this has gone too far and we can’t be silent. In the first wave I said, cool, we’ll go back from Tel Aviv to the kibbutz, to our parents.” She said she had been working at restaurants and added that “they open, they close, all the time. Enough. People don’t have money.”
On Hoshaya Bridge over road 77 in the Lower Galilee the honking cars made it hard to hear anything else. Uri Ganor, 70, came to protest during a trip in the area. “We saw the flags and we came to join them for a little while. Then we’ll go to Tel Aviv and protest there.”
Sarit Avraham, an architect, and Yaara Gur-Arieh, a photography teacher from Moshav Tzippori, came to protest for the first time “and we’ll continue to until the prime minister resigns,” they said together. According to Avraham “what got us started is what’s happening in the country. They’ve taken 10 steps backward. lockdown again, suffocating again. The whole thing of the second wave of coronavirus is to get out of [talking about] annexation and his trial,” she said, referring to Netanyahu. “He scares people and quarantines them. That’s the way it was nine years ago, when he managed to keep people quiet. I hope this time he won’t.”
Her friend Gur-Arieh, however, thinks that this is political. “I’m a leftist, write that down. I am an army orphan; I gave blood for this country. Every citizen should be treated with dignity. We’re not ashamed of anyone. We all built it. They won’t destroy us. He’s destroyed everything good. Let him leave…period.”
Discussions started between protesters and people passing in their cars, for and against. “What difference does it make, the main thing is that they see us,” Merav Levin, in charge of the protest at the Hoshaya Bridge said. There are more people every Saturday, she said “we started with 50 or 60, a week later, 80 to 90, now we’ll go over 100, There’s a good atmosphere here and it’s fun. There are more young people. So far there have been only older people. We’ll be here for as long as it takes.”
A little to the south, at Nahalal junction, about 100 people were protesting with lots of cars honking in support. From time to time a car passed and its occupants shouted defiantly at them. Grace Sherman of Moshav Nahalal, who came with her partner and her son, protested yesterday for the first time. “Change is needed and the country has to be saved,” she said. “For a long time it hasn’t belonged to its citizens and we have to come out and see to our children’s future.” Because of the coronavirus, Sherman doesn’t protest in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, but she said “we’ll be here every Saturday.”
Yoel Freudenberg, a 92-year-old from Nahalal and apparently the oldest protester, came with his daughter for the third week. “It’s gotten worse. I don’t know if it will help but somebody has to do it. We can’t act like we don’t care. But not enough people care.”
Many bridges in the Jezreel Valley were full of protesters too. In the evening, when darkness fell in the valley, the bridge near Manshiya Zbeda, about 2 kilometers away, could be seen full of protesters.
“Two weeks ago there were 20, a week ago, 150, now 250,” Amnon Shaham from Moshav Tel Adashim said while standing on the bridge. The protesters held one huge sign reading “I won’t be silent because my country has changed its face.” What was encouraging, Shaham said was “the response of the drivers. The honking, thumbs up. You can make eye contact from the bridge and that’s encouraging. People feel that they’re not alone.”