"Don't talk about how unfortunate you are, talk about what your rights are," Reuven Abergil reminded the people who came to the tent protest in Jerusalem's Independence Park. That was on Sunday, a few hours after Abergil, a few women living in the tents and a number of social activists were arrested at a rally for public housing in front of the offices of Amidar, the public housing agency. They were released a few hours later.
The pensioners who demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Monday said the same thing that Abergil, a leader of the Israeli Black Panthers movement from the 1970s, told the Jerusalemites. At the protest tents with which we have been blessed, the demonstrators are re-interpreting every day the slogan "the people demand social justice." And this resonates just as well as its progenitor in Arabic, "the people want the fall of the regime." A humorous takeoff on the slogan, which rhymes in Hebrew, can now be found tacked to the trees on Rothschild Boulevard: "The silent majority wants a reset."
The deeper you go into the meaning of the words "social justice," the less that phrase seems slogan-like. It turns out to be flexible and dynamic. Every day it includes more and more people and groups, as well as more understandings and coalitions that a moment before seemed impossible; for example, protesters from Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood and Arabs from Jaffa in one group in the Tel Aviv demonstration with posters in Arabic and Hebrew.
True, some learning is still to be done, as well as listening to the complaints of those who are not middle class, represented in Independence Park and Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park. You people on Rothschild (and your media) are ignoring us, you're like the "boys from the Finance Ministry." But the continuing dialogue between Facebook and the direct democracy in the streets gives us hope that this can be repaired. Because that's the beauty of the phrase "social justice" in its potential subversiveness against the existing order.
That's why the representatives of that order so want the protest movement to emasculate the slogan into a series of arithmetic demands. That's why some representatives and beneficiaries of the existing order - viz. the Yesha Council of settlements - are trying to embrace the movement and disguise themselves as its offspring, appearing among the tents with their honeyed words. And they are not the tycoons.
Because "social justice" knows no borders, it imposes on those who call for it a responsibility and an obligation beyond the original intent. Indeed, it appeared Tuesday in the Vision Document compiled by the protest leaders (as quoted in Haaretz): "minimizing social inequalities (economic, gender-based and national) and creating social cohesion essential for the existence of the state."
One may assume that the writers of the document knew that minimizing gaps between national groups means ceasing to discriminate in law and practice against Palestinian Israeli citizens. When they get down to details, they will find that true fulfillment of this demand requires immediate allocation of land in the Galilee and central Israel's Triangle area to Palestinian villages whose master plans constrict them intentionally. They will also learn that originally many of these lands were expropriated from Palestinians for use by Jewish citizens. They will find it hard to ignore the new laws and the old laws that must be abrogated to minimize gaps between national groups.
When they go with the flow of the meaning of their demands, they will come to the unrecognized Negev Bedouin community of Al Arakib, for example, and they will discover the systematic way the state is wiping out the rights of the Bedouin and their history in this country to create living space for Jews.
In the never-ending poem called "social justice," the singers will reach a confusing line that says the state's borders reach the Jordan River. And in that great country, the Jewish settlement of Na'aran north of Jericho was allocated 433 liters of water per person per day in 2008, while the nearby Palestinian village of Al-Uja was allocated 82 liters of water per person per day. Later in the poem it will say that the rule is that the state allocates much more water to Jews than it does to Palestinians.
In the coming months, as the movement grows, it will split. Some will continue to think and demand "justice" within the borders of one nation, always at the expense of the other nation that lives in this land. Others, however, will understand that this will never be a country of justice and welfare if it is not a state of all its citizens.