At the height of Tuesday night’s protest at the square in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem, a social work student stood in the middle of the square, took off her shirt and exposed her breasts. “Only when a girl takes off her clothes, do they pay attention,” said the student, who participated in at least three separate demonstrations that day. “Maybe now someone will care about social workers.”
Most of those present showed their support for her, and only one older protestor complained: “You need to show consideration for the religious.”
LISTEN: Protests, pandemics and Netanyahu's day of reckoning
It’s not certain that this was the biggest demonstration ever held in the square, but it seems it was the loudest. The new generation of vuvuzelas, the plastic horns from Hell, had a starring role alongside whistles, kitchen utensils, noisemakers, drums and trumpets – which together made an unbearable soundtrack. The noise faithfully represents the spirit of the demonstration: Disorderly, lacking clear leadership and full of energy. Hundreds of young people without a single, central organization, without a stage, without speeches and without a unified message – except for the desire to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resign.
The official justification behind the protest was the law giving the government expanded authority during the coronavirus crisis, at the expense of the Knesset. But it seems that even without this law the activists would have found a different reason to march to Jerusalem. Lacking a central organization, the protest split into infinite initiatives and centers: In one corner of the square was a dance circle, with a flutist and a young woman wearing a bridal gown in the center. In another corner was a “circle for changing awareness” where they sang quietly: “Who is the man who desires life.”
In between were numerous handwritten signs against Netanyahu reading, among other things, “dictator go home,” “conman,” “fear makes people obedient,” “we came to love,” “capitalism is bullshit,” and many signs reading “shame.” There were also more modest displays, such as Mira Povitzer and a friend who wandered around with goldfish on their heads. “The fish stinks from its head, and we will not remain silent like fish,” said Povitzer, 38, from Kerem Maharal in the north. “Today I woke up in the morning and had the desire to come here, we got together a few friends and came out of a sense of purpose, we won’t be silent any more.”
If you want to understand the direction the protest is going and its power, you need to study the last week in Jerusalem. Only a week has passed since the tumultuous demonstration in the center of town, during which the light rail tracks were clocked and for the first time the police used water cannons and mounted officers against the demonstrators in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence.
This was the fifth big demonstration in the week since, and two of them have ended in a violent dispersal and dozens of arrests. It seems that as the protests keep drawing in new forces – this time it was restaurant owners, environmental groups and the Shomer Hatzair youth movement who joined in. The organizers from the Black Flag movement counted no less than 50 organizations that joined the protest on Tuesday evening.
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The police have learned from experience and this time gave up in advance and blocked Paris Square near the Prime Minister’s Residence to traffic, after traffic had been blocked there by protesters during the two large demonstrations. Large numbers of police gathered around the square, but the protesters left that area and began marching to the Knesset. As opposed to the warnings it made before the protest, the police allowed the march – in the end it was a lot easier to control and block the crowd in the wide and empty streets of Givat Ram where the Knesset is, rather than in the streets of Rehavia and downtown Jerusalem, as happened during the last two large protests.
Dozens of chefs gathered in the square and pulled out hundreds of packaged meals in disposable containers to give out in protest of the way the restaurant industry has been treated. The organizers of the restaurant protest said they did not intend for the demonstration to be political, but later they had second thoughts. “When I see these amazing protesters I understand that Bibi needs to go home, that we are all here for this purpose,” said Mor Shvavo Harel, one of the organizers. “This government has failed, and it is time to go home,” said chef David Frankel. “We know how to run a business, they don’t.”
After about two hours, and after a protester dressed up as Moses climbed on the menorah, most of the protesters began returning to the Prime Minister’s Residence. On the way they came across a police water cannon truck waiting on the side, wrote on it: “Bibi to jail,” and took pictures next to it. Others shouted at the police officers inside: “In the end you will have to explain to the inquiry commission what you are doing here.”
One of the young female protesters was angry about the way they treated the police vehicle: “Why are you drawing on the truck, who has hand sanitizer to clean it?” Her protest friends didn’t understand what the problem was. “What are you talking about? This is a vehicle that can kill you,” said an older protester while six mounted policemen and a few police motorcyclists accompanied the marchers back to Balfour Street. On the way back to Paris Square the protesters continued to make noise and demonstrate, until they were aggressively dispersed around midnight, and 34 people were arrested at the end of the night.