Tens of thousands of demonstrators from all over the country, including whole families from the South, kids and pets in tow, filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Thursday night to show solidarity with the towns near the Gaza border that have been constantly hit by rockets and mortar shells.
Protesters carried signs with slogans like “We won’t be quiet,” “Gaza border residents are Israeli citizens, too!” “Even one rocket is too many,” “We trust the IDF” and “Conquer Gaza now!” They chanted “The nation demands justice” and “We love the IDF.”
One sign in English quoted the film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in an apparent reference to the recent spate of on-and-off cease-fires: “If you want to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”
Meanwhile, rock bands that hail from Sderot – such as Teapacks and Knesiyat Hasechel – played for the crowd, as did pop singer Keren Peles.
It was the night of the Kassam generation.
Thousands of teenagers from the South, wearing red shirts representing the Color Red rocket-warning sirens they have heard their entire lives, were a major presence in Rabin Square. Several gave speeches during the rally. “Is it normal for a teenage girl to get up in front of thousands of people and talk about living under the threat of missiles?” Tom Katz, 16, a third-generation resident of Nahal Oz, asked on stage. “Did you know that an antitank missile was shot at our school bus?” Yael Medina, 13, from Netiv Ha’asara, said she doesn’t know a life without rocket-warning sirens.
“We always have booms. Even before [Operation Protective Edge], but no one talks about it unless there’s a war,” she said. “We have to continue fighting with full force until there’s quiet.”
Medina’s friend Yuval Kerem, 14, matched her lipstick to her red shirt and said she spent recent weeks in the North, but returned to Netiv Ha’asara during the cease-fire to get more clothing.
“We want quiet in our home. People need to notice us,” she pleaded.
The words of “Does Anyone Hear Me?” – a hit song of the rock band Eifo Hayeled, whose members hail from Givat Brenner – took on new meaning when they played it for the protesters.
In fact, several times throughout the song, lead singer Hemi Rudner changed the words to “Does anyone hear you?” Omer Rozen of Gevim, who looked younger than his 15 years, held a sign that covered much of his body that read: “Is the life of a Tel Aviv kid worth more than mine?” When asked if he wrote the sign and if it reflects how he feels, Rozen answered in the affirmative.
“Nothing happened until there were rockets in Tel Aviv,” he said, though the ground operation in Gaza started hours before the first Iron Dome interception in Tel Aviv in July. “The prime minister and defense minister need to always care about us, not just when there’s a siren in Tel Aviv. They should keep an Iron Dome in the Sha’ar Hanegev [region] all the time.”
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, one of the first speakers at the rally, said otherwise, hailing the “courageous partnership between towns in the South and Tel Aviv.
“We are partners in the path of Zionism and in loving the land, and we share a joint destiny in this land,” Huldai added.
Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi said residents of the South will no longer accept the so-called drizzle of rockets and mortars, to enthusiastic applause from the crowd.
“This isn’t politics; there is no Right or Left here,” he said, though right in front of him was a banner reading: “[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu is weak, Netanyahu is a coward, Netanyahu has to go.”
“It is clear, understood and elementary. We want a safe, quiet life so we can develop and thrive. We are sick of promises and declarations. Any compromise made is compromising our lives and our future. Our blood is not cheap!” Davidi declared.
The Sderot mayor is the father of seven children, some of whom “were born into this sickening reality,” he said. “It needs to come to end once and for all. We want our kids to associate red with the anemones that grow in our area.”
Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Yellin, whose son was wounded in the operation, thanked the crowd, which included people from as far north as Kiryat Shmona, for its solidarity.
Yellin told the crowd that residents of Gaza border towns “are not just people who have rockets shot at them.”
“My son, Or Yellin, from Kibbutz Be’eri, and a settler from Migron lived different lives, but both were injured together in military action.
Both were educated to love this land, and that is greater than any ideology. They are willing to risk their lives for our security,” he said.