Children of the revolutions

Look at London and you’ll realize that social solidarity is better than uniting to clean up a neighborhood which has just been ransacked.

Some things you can’t ignore. For me, scenes of mayhem from the British capital fall into this category.
I might have left London three decades ago, but obviously it has not entirely left me.
When I heard that a national football match had been canceled last week, I quipped that the situation must be serious.
This was very definitely not business- as-usual. Soon I stopped joking and I began licking my formerly stiff British upper lip, as one does when one is anxious. Eventually, I sent e-mails to friends and family in the UK to make sure they were all right. I expected them to reply with reassurances that “it looked worse than it was,” and, just as it’s hard to get an accurate picture of events in Israel by following the media in England, it is difficult in Israel to get the full picture of events in the UK.
I wish.
The responses ranged from “It is actually quite frightening” – “quite” meaning “very” in that corner of the world – to a description so harrowing I suggested my friend seek counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.
I should, perhaps, have suggested she come here.
Whatever you think of the protesters in Israel, last week it was obvious that they were making an effort (albeit clumsy) to be inclusive and reach out to different communities.
The Tel Aviv tent city and protests have become so inclusive, in fact, that among the causes represented are the plight of Hamas-held soldier Gilad Schalit; the fate of Jonathan Pollard in a US jail; divorced fathers battling for child custody; and animal welfare.
Those not there are made to feel square.
However, while the Israeli tent camps held Tisha Be’av events, commemorating the loss of the two Temples thousands of years ago because of “baseless hatred,” in cities throughout the UK youths were rioting for, well, nothing, except perhaps boredom.
“It is not the thought-out-ness of proper anarchy, but it is anarchic and feral,” wrote one friend who has worked in the past with exactly the type of disaffected dropouts who were looting and torching businesses (as much as anyone can actually work with these youths).
“These children are bored. They have no money. And a long summer holiday stretches ahead,” she noted, painfully aware that this is only a partial explanation and certainly no excuse. “They will kill for a mobile, for a pair of trainers.
They live on the streets – they own the streets – it’s all they have.”
In the age of reality TV, kids crave attention like never before, she added, “and this new drama is giving them attention, while the police, media and local communities look on in shock, horror and terror.”
My friend recalled seeing the picture of a woman jumping out of a burning building in Croydon which immediately reminded her of 9/11.
The photo made the front pages of the August 10 editions of both Ma’ariv and Yediot Aharonot. In the latter, it completely overshadowed the other two Page 1 stories – mass dismissals in a Galilee food processing plant and, on a happier note, the story of a couple who rushed from their protest tent to a local hospital to give birth to their first child.
ANOTHER CLOSE friend noted: “The BBC and left-wingers are blaming government funding cuts. Rest of us think it is criminal looting. I blame the parents.
Some of the thugs are kids of 10 or 11.”
The parents are certainly part of the problem rather than the solution; in many cases, they themselves have been raised without values and seem to actively encourage their offspring in their lawlessness.
“It has something to do with cuts, a lack of any real facilities and resources for the youths,” said the friend who has worked in the field.
“But even if there were plenty of these around, this generation is intent on showing its total disrespect for everyone – and most tragically for life itself.”
My traumatized friend recalled an African proverb, “If the children are not initiated into the village they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.”
Which is why the slogans about “community” and “togetherness” have to have meaning.
Of course the riots also brought out the best in the very decent folk who continue to make up the majority in the UK.
This was not sectorial, this was criminal. It was terrorism of a sort so mindless that there was not even an underlying ideology.
THIS IS certainly not the UK anybody wants to see ahead of next year’s Olympic Games, which are meant to be about peace, harmony and the sporting spirit, though few of us buy that any more. The 1972 Munich massacre of the Israeli athletes ruined that dream for me. I wasn’t even particularly comfortable with the last games, in Beijing. There is something sinister in the way the world is willing to forgive China its appalling record on human rights, largely, it would seem, because of its huge potential as a trade partner.
The world, in fact, is willing to overlook lots of things for money, which is why although when these interests seemed compromised in Libya, the West reluctantly took action while Syria’s Bashar Assad has been free to murder his citizens with the global village just doing a body count and wagging a finger.
But I digress.
The turmoil of the Middle East is not the causeless hooliganism we’re seeing in England.
My friends in London hope for the best but fear the worst. “It will not be over until the streets are no longer run by young people without a cause,” said one. “In the ’60s and ’70s feminists took to the streets to Reclaim The Night because we did not feel safe... Now the streets are not safe because of a generation of feral children.”
And I thought of what was happening here: Could it descend into anarchy, a free-for-all, with more and more demands – and that now-universal craving for media attention? It could, but hopefully it won’t, because the offspring of the middle classes might be prepared to sweat out a summer in a tent in a carnival atmosphere, but they are protesting for affordable housing, education and healthcare. These are not abandoned children living on the streets. Some of their demands brought on them the accusations of being spoiled, but the bottom line is that at least their dreams are a sign of hope – a desire for a better future.
The protests have raised important issues – issues that need to be solved, because, as a society, we’re all in this together for better or for worse. Look at London and you’ll realize that social solidarity is better than uniting to clean up a neighborhood which has just been ransacked.
And that is why it was encouraging to see the Tel Aviv protesters willing to acknowledge Tisha Be’av, an expression of collective memory, traditions and values passed down from one generation to another. And it was touching to know that they would be marking, also, Tu Be’av this week, a festival which has come to be celebrated as a holiday of love.
May the baby born to the Israeli protesters grow up with strong values, a sense of community and, hopefully peace – the child of a social revolution, not anarchy.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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