Israel protests: Old timer's strong showing keeps protests going

The current wave of protests has brought thousands of people out to protest spots where they are making their voices heard.

‘IF YOU’RE not out on the frontlines, there’s really no way for you to understand what’s really going on in this country of ours.’  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
‘IF YOU’RE not out on the frontlines, there’s really no way for you to understand what’s really going on in this country of ours.’
"Despite all the risks of becoming infected with corona – and I’m aware of the dangers involved – I decided to go out and take part in the protests,” explained Nora-Nurit Manor, 76, who has been participating in protests against the prime minister in front of his Balfour Street residence in Jerusalem, as well as in her hometown of Tel Aviv.
“The political situation we’re stuck in now is a disaster. The only way to get out of this mess is to bring about a change.”
The current wave of protests has brought thousands of people out to protest spots where they are making their voices heard.
Most of the protesters are young people, but there are also some old-timers who regularly join their younger comrades, despite being in a high-risk category for severe illness from COVID-19. Manor, who is an artist and novelist, falls into this category.
“Perhaps something good might come out of the corona epidemic after all,” she says. “Just as the corona has brought about a huge amount of change in our lives, it might also have a strong effect on Israel’s politics.”
Why is it so important to you to participate in these protests?
“I just felt like it was what I needed to be doing. I mean, my art is very political, too. It’s who I am. For years, I’ve been using my art to express my feelings about things that are harmful in our society. For me, it’s completely natural to go to protests.”
Wouldn’t you rather leave this part to younger people?
“Well, I’ve been going to all sorts of protests for years in Tel Aviv, and for the most part it seems to me like most of the young people here prefer to spend their time hanging out in cafés. So I guess it’s up to us old-timers to get the work done. I was, however, happily surprised to see so many young people out at the recent demonstrations. I feel like I’ve worked really hard over the years to make my voice heard, and it’s the young people’s turn now. But I still like coming.
My husband died in the INS Dakar submarine that sank in 1968, so I’ve been taking the whole submarine scandal very personally. All the slimy people who were involved in these corrupt submarine deals should be exposed. I prepared 40 signs for the demonstrations, which I handed out to all the people – most of whom were in their 20s or 30s – on the bus we took to Jerusalem for the protest. I feel good about my contribution to the cause.”
Aren’t you worried about getting COVID-19 at one of these protests?
“I wear my mask properly and I don’t hug anyone, even though I’d really love to hug all the young people here. I’m extremely careful about not getting close to other people. It’s just that I couldn’t fathom sitting at home and not doing anything about this awful situation we’re in. It’s important to me to feel like I’m doing my part to help save our country. I wish I had the luxury to spend my time painting pastoral landscapes, but this is the time to create political artwork and join protests.”
Aren’t you afraid when the protests turn violent?
“Well, it’s critical to remain vigilant. Toward the end of a protest, I move away to the edge of the crowd so that I can protect myself better. I have three sons – two live overseas and one lives here in Israel. I feel responsible as the leader of my extended family to stand up for what’s important. I’m also active on Facebook, where I write daily about what’s meaningful to me. Sometimes, when I ask friends of mine why they don’t ‘like’ my posts more often, they tell me they’re worried about how their employers would react. This really gets my blood boiling and makes me even more sure about how important it is for me to personally go out and protest. I mean, somebody’s gotta be there.”
“If you’re not out on the frontlines, there’s really no way for you to understand what’s really going on in this country of ours,” exclaims Mordechai Avraham, 79, from Jerusalem. “I was at the protest in Goren Square in Petah Tikva [in 2017 against government corruption] and in 2011 I went to Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard to participate in that demonstration [against the high cost of living]. But what’s currently happening on Balfour Street in Jerusalem is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. No protests like these have ever taken place in Jerusalem, and I’ve been to many protests over the years.”
How does it make you feel, seeing all these young people protesting?
“In recent years, it seems like there aren’t many older people participating in protests. Last year on July 14, Bastille Day in France, something really amazing happened to me. As I was driving home, I passed through Jerusalem’s Paris Square, and got stuck in the traffic from a protest. I ended up turning my motor off and just sitting there watching all the young people holding up the creative signs they’d made at home. These kids really care about what’s happening to Israel and are taking responsibility. Each person was shouting about something that’s important to them. One person was protesting the occupation, another annexation, a third government corruption and fourth person talked about how he can’t feed his family.
But all these people have one thing in common: Their belief that a person who has been accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust should not be allowed to continue serving as prime minister. They are screaming, ‘Get out of Balfour!’ The protest isn’t being organized by a political party or a specific organization. It’s completely authentic. It’s so exciting to see people so engaged and who care so much about our future. Finally, the young people are joining us old-timers out here in the protest.”
‘FINALLY, THE young people are joining us old-timers out here in the protest.’ (Hadas Porush/Flash90)
‘FINALLY, THE young people are joining us old-timers out here in the protest.’ (Hadas Porush/Flash90)
Aren’t you afraid of contracting COVID-19 when you go to these demonstrations?
“As my doctor says, we’ll all die at some point from something. I’m pretty healthy, so even if I were to get corona, I’d still have a pretty good chance to recover. And if I died from corona, well, I won’t be dying young. I think one of the reasons that the government is trying to scare the public is so that they can control us. I’m not, God forbid, downplaying the seriousness of the virus, and I wear my mask properly and try not to get near anyone I don’t know. Most of the people at the demonstrations are also wearing masks and obey instructions given by the police.
“There will always be a couple of outliers at each protest who don’t behave properly, but the vast majority follow the rules. The only way we’re going to succeed in having some influence on policy is by standing here day after day and yelling until the people in power agree to make some changes. The protests are not against the right wing or Likud. We are only interested in achieving one goal: Removing Bibi from power. We are all united in this singular goal.”
“In my opinion, the country is being run in an undemocratic fashion and the healthcare and economic situation here in Israel is becoming jeopardized,” says Emilia Yitzchaki, 72, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Rishon Lezion.
A little over two months ago, she began attending the Balfour Street protests once or twice a week.
“I’ve always considered myself an activist,” says Yitzchaki. “I’ve always stood up for things that were important to me, whether they be at my job, with my family or among my friends. I love being involved in new movements and I love staying busy all the time. I’ve never been a passive person who just sits on the sidelines and watches as life passes her by.”
Yitzchaki drives her own car to the protests, picking up three or four friends along the way.
“I was so happy to see that young people have finally joined the protests,” she enthuses.
In the early days of the protests, Yitzchaki could be seen standing in the front row at the beginning of each protest.
“Then I would make way for others to come forward and take charge,” she explains. “It’s pretty rare for me to go off and sit down on the sidelines. My friends, too. Even though lots of young people are now coming to the protests, we old-timers still come every week. We are the ones who would show up here on a regular basis to protest in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence.”
When asked if she’s scared of contracting corona, Yitzchaki replies, “No, it doesn’t trouble me. Young, I will not die,” she says with a smirk.
“Until last week, I still worked every day – I was a monitor for the matriculation exams. I wear my mask diligently and keep my distance from people. I don’t go to restaurants, but I will not stop going to protests – they’re too crucial. We need to make sure that none of these corrupt politicians succeed in making their way back to government in the future. Only law-abiding people should be allowed to be members of Knesset. That’s why I’m out here protesting.”
Does your family try to convince you not to attend?
“At first, they kept telling me, ‘Don’t go,’ but when they saw I was going anyway, they just told me to try to be careful. There was only one protest I didn’t attend, since I was worried it would become violent.”
Does the possibility of violence erupting scare you?
“Not really, because I see how we the protesters proceed,” continues Yitzchaki. “If violence does erupt, it usually happens at the end of the protest, when my friends and I are already in my car on our way home. We sometimes hear on the radio that something happened after we left. We never join the young people who walk to big street intersections and sit down on the ground so that they can disrupt traffic. My friends and I also try to clean up around Paris Square a bit before we go home. We don’t want to leave any flyers or cigarette butts on the ground there.
“I don’t go to any protests in Tel Aviv, though, because it’s too difficult to find parking there. I just come to the demonstrations on Balfour Street. And I bring food, cake, fruit and drinks for the people who sleep here on-site so that there can be a constant presence. They’re doing holy work.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.