Where have the fighters gone?

Death of a Jerusalemite Black Panther

About a month ago, Sa'adia Marciano, one of the founders of the Black Panthers social movement, died. The movement, which burst onto Jerusalem's streets in the 1970s - first in Musrara and then spreading to other poor neighborhoods such as the Katamonim - placed the plight of weaker sectors of the country, especially those of non-European descent, on the public agenda. The movement, however, lasted for less than three years as many of its leaders fell prey to disease, drug addiction and depression. Marciano and movement co-founder Charlie Bitton withstood these trials, and both made it, at least for a while, to the Knesset. Bitton joined the non-Zionist Hadash Party, while Marciano became a member of the leftist, Zionist Sheli Party. Later on, Marciano devoted his life to helping drug-addicted youth, creating Zoharim, one of the first detoxification villages, named after the Mizrahi singer Zohar Argov, who was himself a drug addict. Another Black Panthers founder, Ruben Abergel, became a social worker and an ideologue of radical protest movements. For Abergel, the fact that no other social protest movement has been as successful as the Black Panthers comes as no surprise. "We had the Ohalim movement in the Eighties," says Abergel, "but they didn't really mean revolution, they just wanted to improve their quality of life and the fact is that they disappeared quickly and since then - nothing." Tami Molad-Hayu, a veteran social activist and Labor Party member, disagrees. "We had the protest movement initiated by Moti Ashkenazi after the Yom Kippur War, which finally brought to an end Golda Meir's government and the Mapai hegemony," she says. "And on the other side, the Peace Now movement was created and began to act in Jerusalem, but these were already political movements and not socioeconomic movements, with a different agenda than the Black Panthers." Marciano's younger sister, Ayala Sabag, inherited his revolutionary spirit and is known in the city for the many protest movements she has led, the last one being the homeless encampment last summer in the city center. "Sa'adia believed that the people had to rise against the system, but he realized that too many of them didn't have the strength. He was ready to give even his life for this struggle. It's a pity that so few have continued after him," she says. During a Channel 1 screening this week of the film made many years ago on the Black Panthers, Sabag said that "the real change in Israeli society, when we will witness equality and fraternity and peace, will come when we all - Mizrahim and Ashkenazim - work for it together." Asked why there hasn't been more activity like that of her brother and his friends since the Seventies, Sabag says that people are crushed, given just a little bit in order to survive and thus do not have the courage to put it at stake, but "lower their heads and obey." She adds immediately that she is sure this situation will not go on for long. "I am still here, in his footsteps, and I am sure that one day we will prevail."