The stories behind the pink bandanas and the protests at Balfour

What is the meaning of this piece of fabric and how is it becoming the visual representation of these protests?

TEL AVIV activist Yossi, donning a pink mask with a sewed-on ‘Crime Minister’ patch, attends an informal meeting in Independence Park (photo credit: SARAH LEVI)
TEL AVIV activist Yossi, donning a pink mask with a sewed-on ‘Crime Minister’ patch, attends an informal meeting in Independence Park
(photo credit: SARAH LEVI)
Mass demonstrations have been taking place since July throughout the country, drawing tens of thousands of protesters calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation over corruption allegations and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The focal point of these demonstrations has been in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Saturday nights drawing over 10,000 protesters from all over the country.
While the protests are drawing an eclectic crowd, one trend among the participants has been the donning of a bright pink bandana. What is the meaning of this piece of fabric and how is it becoming the visual representation of these protests?
Tribal accessories are not an unusual occurrence in public discourse, we have seen it in France with the yellow vests that symbolized a call for economic justice, in the United States with the pink knit hats in protest of US President Donald Trump’s 2016 election and even further back in history with the black berets worn by the Black Panthers in the 1960s and 1970s.
Prof. Pnina Motzafi-Haller, a social anthropologist and a professor of anthropology at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, told In Jerusalem that the people wearing these pink bandanas represent “marked groups that find the need to make a statement that will be visible in addition to verbal statements and signs.” The other kind of grouping represented by this garment is to clearly distinguish themselves from the ‘Bibistim’ (a somewhat new slang referring to those who support Netanyahu).
Motzafi-Haller has been recently attending these protests and observed “a cacophony of voices and colors that are all speaking the same language to distinguish themselves from Bibi. It is a class distinction and not about the Left or Right.”
In Israel, this phenomenon of tribal accessories has not taken place since 2005 with the bright orange ribbons worn by those who protested the Gaza Disengagement. The color orange was chosen because it was also the color of the Gaza settlement council’s flag. These ribbons, as well as the color orange came to represent not just a reaction to the Gaza pullout but eventually led to represent a certain type of people in Israel. As tribal accessories would have it, the color orange became a political litmus test as Left-leaning citizens would not wear the color and even clothing shops during the time of the disengagement in Tel Aviv were known to stop selling articles of clothing with the color orange.
EXACTLY 15 years later, Israel finds itself in another pivotal moment, as many citizens are feeling compelled to travel to Jerusalem and take to the streets in an attempt to reclaim the country they care so deeply about.
According to the Balabatim (Landlords) group’s Facebook page, a collective of artists and creative types from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the North, started the trend of wearing a pink bandana and they have been spotted selling the accessory along with pink noisemakers near the entrance to the Prime Minister’s Residence.
A Facebook post by the group featuring a photograph of a pink bandana wrapped around the neck of an upright bass reads: “Somehow it’s been almost a month since we bought the first pink bandanas in a scarf store on King George Street in Jerusalem and that was that…”
While the group represents one element of these large protests, other Israelis not familiar with the group have been spotted adorning their necks with the pink bandana.
Sharon Avraham, a photographer and activist from Ein Vered who has been documenting the Saturday night protests, told In Jerusalem that the bandana trend represents “a wider range of the Israeli public, including the LGBTQ community, women’s rights movements and people from the fringes of the society. The color pink represents something good. It is a kinder color and it is also a nice contrast from the reds and blacks you usually see at demonstrations.”
ON ONE recent brisk Thursday evening, the street outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence had its usual attendees. A lively mix of middle-aged and older Israelis convened on the recently paved two-lane Aza Street. Those representing the “Crime Minister” and “Ain Matzav” (No Way) groups, the black flag people and unaffiliated Israelis found themselves mingling, blowing horns and shouting slogans. Amid the noise, a noticeable number of protesters had a pink bandana around their necks.
At the same time on the other side of the street, the handful of Netanyahu supporters played the Prime Minister’s speech announcing the historic diplomatic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Itzik from Ma ale Hahamisha, an older gentleman sitting on a plastic chair, wearing a pink bandana around his neck while holding a large Israeli flag, told In Jerusalem that this is what the “younger kids are wearing.” However, his wearing of the bandana was a mix of ambivalence and a show of support for his fellow protesters.
“I’m not sure we will get rid of the ‘thief’ from Balfour, but I believe that our presence here will grow and increase and there will be a chance that the ‘thief’ will finally go home.”
Itzik has been coming to Jerusalem to protest the Prime Minister for a month and a half and said that he is there because he wanted to remind himself that it is possible to change the country.
“There are a lot of groups coming from different places, but what is uniting us all is the goal to release the country from the grasp of the crook on Balfour Street.”
GILAT OF Ganei Tikva, pink bandana around her neck, displays a sign reading, ‘The dictatorship is a danger to all of us! Only love!’ in front of the residence. (Credit: Sarah Levi)GILAT OF Ganei Tikva, pink bandana around her neck, displays a sign reading, ‘The dictatorship is a danger to all of us! Only love!’ in front of the residence. (Credit: Sarah Levi)
Gilat is from Ganei Tikva, also wearing a pink bandana holding a sign made from cardboard that reads: “The dictatorship is a danger to all of us. Only love!” She has been coming to protest in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence since the most recent elections in March.
She claims no affiliation with the Balataim group but feels that wearing the pink bandana is a way for her to demonstrate solidarity with her fellow protesters.
“These protests give me hope that we can change things. The unity of the people is inspiring. People are waking up from their sense of hopelessness and are starting to feel like there is hope because people are united and coming together. I feel strengthened and when the young people started coming to join our protest, I thought, “Wow! This is not the beginning of the end; this is the beginning of the beginning!”

DOWN THE street from the Prime Minister’s residence, at Independence Park, small groups of activists were seen meeting throughout the park, holding Israeli flags and hand-made signs .
Yossi, 42 from Tel Aviv was among this group, wearing cargo shorts, a tank top and a truckers’ cap. His arms were covered with tattoos and the pink bandana tied under his chin had a “Crime Minister” patch sewed on. Yossi came from a haredi family and became a Kahanist during the days leading up to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. He said after that he realized that his extreme ways were not good and that he had to make a big change. Fast forward to today and he explains that coming to the protests provides “fuel” for his vision of bringing all kinds of Israelis together. His hope is “to see all streams of Israelis coming to the protests, including Arabs, Druze, Ethiopians, haredim, Circassians and everything in between coming together to bring about a positive change in the country.”
He says with a smile that his pink bandana makes him feel like he’s in the Wild West.
“There’s also an irony to wearing these bandanas. The powers that be want to silence us at the demonstrations and our mouths are covered, but we are still speaking out. It’s the time to yell when they want to silence us.”
Further into the park, a group of young activists all wearing pink bandanas, who set up camp in Independence Park were sitting on the grass, smoking rolled cigarettes, drinking beer and chatting. They have been camping out in the park since the middle of July, despite various attempts from the Jerusalem Municipality to evacuate them from the park.
Nicole Schwartz, 19 from Ramat Gan is “crazy about” the pink bandanas and while she is also not affiliated with the Balabatim, she says that they provide her with a sense of optimism. She has made Independence Park her home for about three weeks.
“I have been angry at the state of things for many years and I am not willing to accept my feelings of despair. I am here because I understand that things need to change. If it doesn’t come from us, it won’t come from anywhere. Being here and being a part of these demonstrations brings me more hope with every passing moment.”
While the general consensus is that there is a lot of hope generated by the pink cloth and the momentum it represents throughout the country, it is not hard to reflect that despite the orange ribbon, the disengagement from Gaza still happened and despite the pink hats, Trump is still the president of the United States.
But will this time be different?

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