Grapevine: Rebel with a cause, and a street

It's not often that a rebel with a history of fighting the democratically elected administration gets a street named after him.

Nir Barkat (photo credit: Marc israel Sellem)
Nir Barkat
(photo credit: Marc israel Sellem)
IT’S NOT often that a rebel with a history of fighting the democratically elected administration gets a street named after him, but considering that there are few permanently visible reminders of the Jerusalem Black Panthers and their impact on politics and social welfare, naming a street – well, actually a corner on the Shivtei Yisrael-Hanevi’im intersection – after the group’s late leader Sa’adia Marciano was the least the Jerusalem Municipality could do to honor his memory.
At the ceremony for the new street sign’s unveiling on the corner – which is not far from Marciano’s former home in Musrara – Mayor Nir Barkat said the event signified the closing of a circle, as it was rare for the establishment to honor someone who had battled against it. However, he acknowledged that Marciano had been a true leader who had the courage and the conviction to swim against the tide and to change the realities of the day.
Marciano and his friends, such as Charlie Biton and Kochavi Shemesh, were calling for social justice 40 years before Daphni Leef, Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli made media headlines with mega-demonstrations calling for affordable housing, better wages and lower food prices. In Marciano’s day, it wasn’t just a matter of economics; it was also racial discrimination. The dominant Eastern European Ashkenazi regime tended to treat Israelis who came from Arab countries as inferior. It was extremely difficult for the Mizrahim (Easterners), as they were called, to escape the cycle of poverty.
When the Black Panthers were founded in the early 1970s, there were still daily milk deliveries to households throughout the country. In a Robin Hood-like exploit, the Black Panthers used to steal the milk from the doorsteps in nearby Rehavia and distribute the bottles among the poor in their own neighborhood. They had many run-ins with the police, and then-prime minister Golda Meir described them as “not nice people.”
Marciano – whose parents migrated from Morocco when he was a baby – and Biton went on to become members of Knesset, where they could legally fight their battles. Marciano championed rehabilitation programs for drug addicts, better education for Mizrahim so they could combat ignorance and illiteracy, and improved social welfare services for the poor. He was ill and very poor himself, and he died in the hospital at age 57 in December 2007.
Relatives, friends and former colleagues had tried unsuccessfully for some time to have his name immortalized. Eventually the Jerusalem Municipality acceded to the request – but not with total grace: The spelling of his name on the street sign is incorrect.
PRIOR TO the announcement of who won this year’s Ophir Awards – the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars – and prior to commercial screenings that began this week, the film Bethlehem, which had already won prizes abroad, showed at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, demonstrating that coexistence is indeed possible.
While the film itself dwells on the animosity and mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians, the cast and production crew consisted of people from both sides of the fence who harbored no malice against each other. On the contrary, when individuals were called to the stage after the screening, they embraced each other and received wild applause from the audience, which included many relatives and friends.
There was a full house at the screening, and at the reception beforehand, the socializing was in Arabic, Hebrew and English. The master of ceremonies was Yoram Honig, director of The Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which was founded in 2008.
An elated Yuval Adler, who together with Ali Waked conceived and scripted the plot, said that Honig had been the first person to notify them that the film would actually take off. The film’s coproducer, Talia Kleinhandler, said it was a very moving experience for her to have the film screened in Jerusalem, “because Jerusalem is my home.” She also praised Waked’s knowledgeable and sensitive contribution to the film, without which, she said, the film could never have been made. In the same breath, she lauded the JFTF for its support, which was crucial to the making of the film.