Eyes Shut Open

The social protest is capable of penetrating established politics and the parties themselves, transform itself into a representational entity and accelerate its own chain reaction.

Daphni Leef sits on a chair in the housing protest movement's street encampment in Holon's Jesse Cohen slum neighborhood. Her eyes are closed, but that is not what focuses the gaze in this says-it-all photograph by Moti Milrod, taken on September 4. The focus is her knees, pressed together above her feet, which are encased in black shoes. Leef is sitting uncomfortably, the back of the chair turned to her right instead of supporting her back. She pinches a cigarette in her right hand and looks as though she has been torn from one of Picasso's full-bodied portraits of women - of which the earliest is of Gertrude Stein - and relocated to a milieu rife with hardship, fear, aggression and worry.

Leef sits at the center of a circle of fire. The people around her are involved in a lengthy confrontation with the municipality and the Housing Ministry over their demand for public housing. Earlier that day they received notices of demolition for the shacks they erected in the tent camp. The woman in black on the right wanted Leef and her friends from the Rothschild Boulevard encampment to leave. An argument broke out and someone tore sheets of canvas, as seen on news videos of the event. Leef continued saying that she supports them.

Daphni Leef and activists
AP / Moti Milrod

Milrod's photograph thus illustrates how Leef responds to confrontation and disagreement: Even though the people she wishes to include in her protest do not immediately have confidence in her, she processes their resistance, understands it, accepts it and stays with them. In a similar situation, MK Miri Regev (Likud ), who visited the Rothschild encampment in its early days, shouted: "You are hallucinating" and "Tell me, are you thick?" She belittled the protesters and rejected them as unworthy of her attention.

On the night before this photograph was taken, Leef delivered a brilliant speech to hundreds of thousands of people in a Tel Aviv square, expanding the social, ideological, moral and emotional vision she represents. It was a moment of satisfaction that contained its own demise, simultaneously the peak and the end of the protest in its tent-camp form - just as fulfilling a desire leaves a void.

But the protest has not been reduced to nothing after this peak; it is capable of penetrating established politics and the parties themselves, transform itself into a representational entity and accelerate its own chain reaction.

Nor is Leef's speech only a matter of satisfaction. In a society in which only seven of the 99 significant Hebrew speeches collected in the book "A Speech for Every Occasion" were delivered by women, Leef's form of speech, which neither apologizes nor grovels, which does not accept nationalism as the only way to measure contributions to the country's social welfare, is itself a new chapter in the story of Israeli women.

So even if Daphni Leef sits with eyes shut on a little chair in the Jesse Cohen neighborhood, surrounded by dissatisfied people, with window blinds and bars and laundry visible behind her on the neighborhood walls, we know that she will open her eyes. That she did not melt in the light of the sun, that her meteoric leadership did not silence her. It is to be hoped that she will decide to continue. That she will change her mind and seek election through the party-political apparatus, that she will not surrender to those on the right who deny her legitimacy because the only way they know how to cope with a left-wing worldview is to brand it traitorous. Actually, they need Leef far more than she needs them.