It's difficult to remember when security last had been so flimsy for a demonstration outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. All the frantic nervousness characterizing the most closely guarded compound in Israel, if not the entire Middle East, disappeared Sunday during the Holocaust survivors' protest.
Thousands of protesters marched hundreds of meters from the Wohl Rose Park to the Prime Minister's Office unhindered, while security guards kept a very low profile. The last thing they needed was a violent clash with the Holocaust survivors.
Foreign journalists were visibly taken aback by the bizarre spectacle of a Jewish state apparently at war with Jewish Holocaust survivors, who were angrily protesting what they considered a miserable stipend offer from the government.
"I don't think any government in Europe could resist the demands of people who have suffered so much," one of them said.
Ze'ev Dratva, a Holocaust survivor, was among the marchers. "How many years do the survivors have left? Barely a year or two," he shouted.
He said he knew survivors who were miserable, and could not afford false teeth or one warm meal a day.
Some survivors were comforted by the sight of the thousands marching for them, including the youths carrying anti-government posters. Yehuda Frenkel, who came from Kiryat Haim, was moved. He could not remember a greater show of solidarity since he immigrated to Israel, after surviving the concentration camps. He had objected to the demonstration at first, if only because of the shame and embarrassment. But in view of the government's callousness, he had concluded there was no other way.
"I want the Germans to know where the money they gave Israel went," he said angrily. "I want the Germans to know that Israel took the money we should have received. I want them to answer one question: Where did our money go?"
The demonstration was not only about the meager stipends, it was about the lost honor of people who already had been robbed of their humanity in the Holocaust. As long as their struggle was kept among themselves, they didn't dare to make too much noise. But as soon as their campaign rattled Israeli indifference, they gathered their last bit of strength and went to Jerusalem to show the government that they were nobody's fools.
"I came all the way from Ramat Gan to protest the humiliation of the Holocaust survivors," said Haya Rosenbaum in a shaking voice. She stretched out her left arm, on which the number 53684 had been etched.
She often had considered how much the establishment wished to be rid of those thousands of survivors who were still clinging to life. Otherwise, how could one explain the state's humiliating treatment?
"It doesn't matter how much money we'll get in the end," said Eva Schoenberger of Petah Tikva. "It's heartwarming to see so many people have come to support us."
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