Are you a person with strongly held beliefs, getting out there to demonstrate, protest, march, and rally when the need arises; or are you someone with, “strong opinions weakly held,” as the saying goes – instead, sharing your views on social media from the comfort of your armchair?
If you live in Israel or follow the news here, you’ll know that vast numbers of people turn out week after week to protest against the coalition’s judicial reforms. Next week will herald 30 straight weeks of unyielding demonstrations.
Although I’ve previously written about this divisive issue, I’d like to shine a light on the protesters themselves: determined men, women, and children who refuse to give up despite the government’s steadfast pursuit of its agenda.
Impressively, some stalwarts have turned up each and every week (and often during the week too) to demonstrate. Such is their dedication to the cause.
Although I’ve been to a few Saturday night demos since the government’s plans were announced, there have been weeks when I’ve not felt like going out. Instead, I sat in front of the TV, feeling slightly guilty, but not guilty enough to shake myself out of the inertia.
Also, I’ve never strayed far from home; my protesting has been local and short-lived (not more than an hour or two), often followed by wandering around the nearby shopping center, furled flag in hand.
I suppose I’m what you might call a “part-time protester.”
I have great admiration, however, for those who have dedicated these past seven months to securing Israel’s democratic future. Those who have made this struggle their life’s mission, traveling far and wide to lend their support.
Below I set out the heartfelt words of some of those extraordinary people who were kind enough to share their thoughts with me.
Meeting some protestors
British-born Tel Avivian, Shelley Goldman is one such person:
“I go because it’s the only way to demonstrate that this coalition does not have a mandate to change the rules of the game, and under the guise of “judicial reform,” [to] eliminate all of the checks and balances on government power,” she explains.
“And yes,” she continues, “I’m a 70-year-old woman who by preference would be home and in bed by 9 p.m. Walking at night for an hour to and from Kaplan [the focal point of the demonstrations], often on my own, is not something I’d do if there were any other way to demonstrate my commitment to Israel remaining an (albeit) flawed democracy with an independent judiciary.”
Linda Levine is another British-Israeli stalwart, whose life currently revolves around the cause. “These days I do not make any arrangements for Saturday evenings,” she states, matter-of-factly. “I don’t consider this a sacrifice, as I feel that fighting for our democracy is of utmost importance.”
When I asked how she feels when she is at one of the dozens of demos she has attended since this all began, she replied: “Totally inspired and uplifted by the atmosphere there.”
She also remarked on the peaceful camaraderie that has developed among the protesters. “We are all here fighting together,” she said, although she was keen to point out that, “the only violence is when the police come into the picture and act in a heavy-handed and violent way, and people protect themselves.”
Paul Mirbach, who was born and grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and later South Africa, before moving to Israel as a young man, is also driven to protest each week. “I left apartheid South Africa to come here. To live in a democracy. During all those years, I helped build a kibbutz from nothing but rocks and mud. I volunteered for the army and served in the Lebanon War.
“I survived a training accident that killed five of my comrades. I spent endless hours volunteering for the police. I helped establish a Jewish-Arab primary school. And that’s what I can remember.
“And what this government’s legislation will do, in turning Israel into a dictatorship, is to wipe out the importance of all the work I did for 41 years. They will cancel out 41 years of my life like they never existed and never counted for anything. Because had I known that this is what Israel would become, I would never have made aliya. And I will not allow them to do that – to render 41 years of my life meaningless.”
One woman who has gone to every single protest, “whether it be in my town, a neighboring town or Kaplan (if the severity of the week called for it – such as the March firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant),” is South African-born Israeli Daniella Crankshaw.
“Keeping up with the demonstrations for six months requires a gargantuan effort, a commitment to the cause, and a profound understanding that if we do not show up, our country will cease to be.
“I have often felt angry and disheartened, but I have also felt elation and accomplishment, for there is no doubt that the demonstrations have had an impact and have achieved success.
“Furthermore, it is the only tool that we have for voicing our despair, anger, and disillusionment at the destruction that is systematically being implemented by the coalition; the damage to our country, the blatant lies, sedition, and hatred that is being circulated by the coalition and its supporters, the violence that we are encountering, the chaos that has been unleashed.
“There are weeks when I have had to push myself out the door to go to a demonstration. But I do it because Israel is that important to us. My family chose to make Israel our home. I wanted my child to grow up here and instill in him a love for Israel, for the beauty that is Israel, for the incredible people that are Israel. Now my son, like so many of his friends, wants to leave for he cannot see a future here, he cannot see the beauty anymore, for the coalition is destroying that beauty, and for that, I will never forgive them.”
Tel Avivian TV director and voice artist, Bobby Lax, echoes the sentiment of so many Israelis:
“Never give up!” he cries, “It’s a fight for the destiny of the country we already sacrificed so much to live in!”
The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Israel where she works at The Jerusalem Post.