Jerusalem Neighborhood to Name Streets in Honor of Mizrahi Black Panthers

Activist group will name the streets 'Black Panthers' Way' and 'They're Not Nice,' which was Prime Minister Golda Meir's famous comment.

A group of artists and residents of Jerusalem's Musrara neighborhood plan to name two streets in honor the Black Panthers, the legendary protest movement which sprang from Musrara in the '70s and swept the country.

The activist group will name the streets "Black Panthers' Way" and "They're Not Nice," which was Prime Minister Golda Meir's famous comment after she met movement leaders in 1971. Second-generation Mizrahi Israelis backed the protest movement in anger at government discrimination against them. Their rage spread rapidly to needy towns and neighborhoods and eventually became a political movement.

The newly named streets will be part of a tour dubbed "In the Panthers' footsteps" through Musrara's mostly unnamed alleys. "As the Panthers burst into the Zionist narrative from their anonymity, these alleys, which the authorities haven't even bothered to name, will be named after those who changed the neighborhood and Israeli society," says artist Matan Yisraeli. "If we don't do it now, they will die before a bench or a stone had been named after them," he says. The group has placed works of art dealing with the Panthers along the route.

Artist Chen Shapira gives the Panthers a place in the Zionist pantheon in a painting of a tower and stockade (the Zionists building method in prestate times ) covered with editions of the movement's newspaper, "Dvar Hapanterim Hashchorim." Another work, by Rina Shamir, consists of signposts glued to city benches facing east. "From that direction Redemption will break forth," the signs say. The artists group plans on expanding the tour route to nearby Safra Square outside Jerusalem city hall.

This site symbolizes, like Golda's description of the Panthers, the patronizing attitude of the establishment and its estrangement from Musrara's youngsters. "Get off the grass, punks," Mayor Teddy Kolek said, when he came out to the Panthers during one of their first demonstrations in 1971.

A number of Black Panthers who still live in the neighborhood got together to reminisce, in view of the planned events. Old arguments arose again - about whose house they met in for the first time; or who betrayed the cause by cooperating with the police or selling their soul to the Ashkenazi devil. But the real argument is over how the situation has changed since the Panthers' days and what should be done today.

One activist blames religion and the extreme right, another says education was the problem. Others agree that the attitude toward Jews from Middle Eastern countries has changed, but there's still a long way to go. "The Panthers played a part in generating everything that happened afterward, rehabilitating the slum neighborhoods, Shas, Mizrahi music. It all happened in the wake of the Panthers' shock waves," says David Ben Ayoun. "But those groups that ruled us then still rule - the essence is the same," says Rafi Ohayon. In universities and the media, Mizrahi Jews number 10 percent, he says, but in prison they're 80 percent. Yael Levy, a Musrara resident who was born three years after the Panthers' started their struggle, says: "What they did opened the doors for us and today we can do anything. Thanks to them, my 15-year-old son can do whatever he wants. Nothing will stop him."

Olivier Fitoussi