‘Social justice’ protesters hold candlelight vigil

Student Union: In wake of terror attacks, protest outside PM's home won't take place, weekend rallies canceled.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
August 18, 2011 19:48
3 minute read.
Tent protesters hold vigil

Tent protesters hold vigil 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

 
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Holding candles, light sticks and torches, thousands marched in a candlelight vigil in Tel Aviv Saturday night to mourn those who lost their lives in the combined terror attacks in the southern Negev on Thursday, leaving eight Israelis dead.

The march was organized by leaders of the Social Issues Protest Movement, and marked the first weekend since mid-July that the movement did not hold a mass demonstration.

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Following the attacks on Thursday, organizers – including the National Student Union – announced that they would cancel all protest actions for Saturday night, but later relented to those in the movement who said that the escalation in the south should not completely derail the movement.

Organizers estimated the crowd at 25,000, though it appeared to be far smaller.

While the gathering had been billed as the “march of silence,” and organizers called for political messages to be absent, there were some signs advocating social welfare issues – though the march lacked megaphone-led calls for “social justice,” or the return of the welfare state.

Hours before the march started, Hamas called off their truce with Israel following a series of IAF air raids on the Gaza Strip since Thursday that left over 12 Gazans dead. Later in the day, a Beersheba man was killed when a grad rocket struck his home.

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Several organizers at the vigil said they felt it presented an opportunity not only to show solidarity with the victims of the recent bloodshed, but also to send a message of peace as the body count threatened to climb in the coming days.

Shortly after the march began, a series of shoving matches broke out between protesters after a small group of marchers carrying red flags began chanting antiwar slogans. Police quickly separated the two sides and the rest of the march took place without incident.

Assaf Levy, a participant who has been active in the moment since it began in mid-July, said that Saturday’s vigil was “a turning point in our struggle.”

“It’s presented an opportunity for the people to say that they want peace,” he said. “Also, [it’s] an opportunity to say that the people aren’t only against the economic system, but also the security and policy system in Israel. For decades we have been stuck in this circle of murder that never ends. We want to break this cycle and live in a Middle East that is different than the one we live in today.”

A participant named Noam, who came from the Levinsky Park tent city to take part in the vigil said: “I am against the continued stupidity in which the people sit at home and are expected to just believe that everyone in the region hates you and wants you and your family dead, and you have no choice but to accept this and be quiet. This is why I’m here, I can’t vouch for the rest of the people here.”

After making its way from the Rothschild tent city through central Tel Aviv, the vigil march ended at the Charles Clore park on the Tel Aviv seashore, where thousands gathered in a giant circle talking and singing songs until the late hours of the night. A moment of silence for the victims of the recent attacks was also observed.

When asked why he took part in the vigil, Tel Aviv resident Lior Arnan said “the march says two things: first, that we must always keep in mind the security issues we face; but also that we cannot forget about the social protest that is taking place, which is also very important.

Maybe not on the same level, but still very important.”

When asked about calls to cancel the protests for this week in the wake of the escalation in the south, he said, “if we’re always going to worry about just one thing [security] then we’ll never get anywhere.

We can’t wait until there are no security threats to deal with the social issues. We’ve been waiting 63 years, we can’t wait anymore.”


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