Protesters ready for ‘March of the Million’

After six weeks of nation-wide social protests, movement to reach turning point as demonstration is launched in several cities.

Tent city protests (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tent city protests
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The social protest movement that has roiled the country since mid- July will reach a crossroads on Saturday as activists launch the “March of the Million” in several cities.
The demonstration is being billed as the climactic street protest of a movement that has seen tent cities sprout up and forced quality-of-life issues into the forefront of the political debate.

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“We’ve reached a turning point in the movement. For six weeks [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu has seen what we’re doing and has not given us any respectful sort of response. If after September 3 he still hasn’t, then it will be clear that we don’t have a partner and we have no choice but to launch a long-term protest that could take years,” Shir Nosatzki, one of the activists at the center of the tent-city protest, said on Thursday. “The path is long, but we are capable of going down this road.”
Activists have attached an historic sort of pre-game hype to the event, with the tag line “Where were you on September 3?” attached to posters and flyers, invoking the question “where were you on November 5” asked about the night in 1995 that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.
Itzik Shmuli, head of the National Union of Students, also spoke in prophetic terms regarding coming protest, saying in a statement on Thursday that “this Saturday we are taking our socioeconomic fate into our own hands. If we don’t come to the protest we will hand our fate over for the next 25 years.”
The Tel Aviv demonstration is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m., with a march from the Habimah Theater to Hamedina Square in the city’s north where a rally will be held.
In addition to speakers, the rally will be headlined by Eyal Golan, the first time a Mizrachi singer has hadthe honor at one of the movement’s Saturday night Tel Aviv rallies. The event will also feature the Hadag Nahash hip hop/funk band and the cast of the TV political satire show Eretz Nehederet (“A Wonderful Country”), who will broadcast a special edition during the protest.
Demonstrations will be held in at least nine additional cities, from Nahariya in the North to Mitzpe Ramon in the South.
Daphni Leef, the 26-year-old film editor who in mid-July launched a Facebook event that started the movement, said on Thursday, “I am calling on everyone to step out of the house on Saturday night and take part in the biggest protest ever held in the history of Israel. Together we will send a clear and strong message to the government of Israel: The people want social justice here and now. We won’t stop protesting, we won’t stop the struggle!” With the protest looming, dozens of Tel Aviv bars, restaurants and cafes have joined the cause, volunteering to close their doors on Saturday evening so employees and customers can take part in the rally.
Preparations for Saturday’s events took place against the backdrop of a media report that activists will announce at Saturday’s main rally in Tel Aviv their decision to fold up the tent cities, and enter a new phase of the protest.
Midday at the Rothschild Boulevard tent city in Tel Aviv, few people seemed to know anything about the reported decision.
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“From day one, the one thing people keep asking is, ‘When will you fold up? When will you go home?’ This is nothing new, people have been saying this stuff the whole time,” said Shir, a tent-city resident sitting on a couch a couple of meters from the “1948 tent” – which represents Palestinian demands – at the corner of Rothschild and Hashmonaim. “How can anyone give that order anyway? There’s not one person who’s deciding for everyone here what to do.”
Shir’s sentiments were echoed by Nosatzki, who said no such decision had been made, but “this is the sort of thing that will happen on its own naturally. It’s already starting to happen, people are going back to school and work and many people have already packed up their tents.”
She said the tents “are just symbolic at this point. The tents are how this started, but there are so many other ways that the protest is happening that it has become much wider than that. I personally don’t feel a need to stay there [on Rothschild] in a tent anymore, and I was one of the first to put a tent there.”
The decision to fold up or to anchor down the tents seemed far from the minds of the halfdozen young Tel Avivians at the “March of the Million” situation room on Thursday.
Located in a fifth-floor apartment overlooking the Rothschild tent city, the situation room opened on Tuesday and has waged on all-out Facebook, Twitter and talkbacks campaign to bring as many people as possible to the protest on Saturday night.
The situation room’s main initiative has been the “five on me” campaign, in which it tries to persuade as many people as possible to agree to call five friends and get them to attend the rallies on Saturday, and to encourage each of those five to call another five, and so on and so on.
In between adding names to the group’s Facebook wall of fame, Orly Bar-Lev said, “There are people coming in and out of the situation room 24 hours a day, always with about five or six people spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter, and by writing talkbacks on all the news sites in Israel.”
When asked what the point of it all was, Bar-Lev said, “What we feel is that the ground in Israel is shaking and we will reach a million people on Saturday. We will make the impossible happen and all of the media and naysayers will eat their hearts out.”