Israelis Take to the Streets to Mark One Year Since Start of Social Protests

Thousands take part in nationwide protests; Daphni Leef: Our message hasn't changed.

Thousands of Israelis have gathered in several cities throughout the country on Saturday to mark one year since the start of the social protests.

In Tel Aviv, one of the protesters marching down Kaplan Street set himself on fire and was evacuated to the hospital shortly afterward.

In a letter he left at the scene, he wrote that "the state of Israel stole from me and robbed me. It left me helpless."

Protesters, in two separate demonstrations in Tel Aviv, were holding signs in support of the gay community, better public transportation, the protection of the environment, and against the deportation of African migrants and the government's socio-economic policy.

Daphni Leef, the woman who launched the social protest, told Haaretz on Saturday that one year later, the activists' message hasn't changed.

"We want a fair society," she said. "Today we are also celebrating. Suddenly, when people take to the streets they understand that they have power and that they are right."

Thousands of protesters were marching in Tel Aviv and chanting slogans such as "No to a country of tycoons."

Meanwhile, some 500 people were protesting in Haifa, chanting, "Money for the neighborhoods, not for the settlements" and "Money for welfare, not for wars." Jews and Arabs were marching side by side, chanting against "the occupation."

In Jerusalem, a few hundred people gathered in Horse Park and began marching down the capital streets, holding signs reading "the rules of the games are changing," and "when the government is against the people, the people are against the government."In Be'er Sheva, some 300 protesters also took to the streets in demand of social justice.

The organizers expected tens of thousands of Israelis to take part in nationwide protests on Saturday, which marked one year since the first tents were erected on Tel Aviv's Roth child Boulevard last summer.

But despite efforts to project a unified front, organizers have failed to find a way to prevent two protest marches from taking place simultaneously in Tel Aviv.

One, organized by several leading activists in last summer's protest, began at 8 P.M. at Gordon Beach and was due to culminate an hour later in a rally in Charles Clore Park. The other, organized by Daphni Leef, also began at 8 P.M. at Habima Square and was due to culminate an hour later in a rally at the government complex on Kaplan Street.

Marches were also scheduled to take place in Jerusalem (9 P.M. at Horse Park, ending up at the Knesset), Haifa (7:30 P.M. near the Bahai Gardens on Ben-Gurion Boulevard, ending at Meyerhoff Square) and Be'er Sheva (9 P.M. at the teacher's center on Rager Street, ending at the Victory Garden).