Encountering Peace: Observations, thoughts and questions

Summer is back and with it the middle class uprising, or the “Hebrew Spring” as some now call it.

Social protests in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Social protests in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Summer is here, ergo I demonstrate. Summer is back and with it the middle class uprising, or the “Hebrew Spring” as some now call it. I really debated with myself on whether or not to join the parade this past Saturday evening. It’s not that I don’t support the calls for social justice. I do. Nor am I in favor of the continued privatization of public services in Israel. The cost of living is too high in Israel, the wages are too low, there is too much abuse of public funds, the government is too big, the wealthy are taxed too leniently. Israel really should be the exemplary compassionate social democracy.
So why the hesitation? I don’t want to continue through another summer of protest to be partner to the lie. There can be no social justice while we continue to control another people and deny them their basic freedom and liberation as a people, and I am not willing to enter the tent of denial. I am not willing to be part of those who even suggest leaving these issues of peace and security out of the tent because they are unpopular. It may indeed be completely true – who wants to hear, once again, about the “political” issues? Not many for sure, but that does not belittle this very basic truth.
So in Jerusalem on Saturday evening I went out to demonstrate. There were some new slogans (Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies, equality for all), some new T-shirts (Peace and Social Justice – one struggle!), there was a young Ethiopian woman lawyer speaker who spoke openly about racism in Israel and the crowd chanted “Equality for All!” These were all encouraging.
Then there was the chant “money for neighborhoods not for...” and I waited to hear “settlements,” but instead came “seats in the government.” How disappointing.
When we marched towards Independence Park and walked along the high white metal barrier surrounding the area where more than 2,000 Muslim skeletons were removed in order to build a museum of tolerance in the name of Simon Wiesenthal, the crowd started banging hard on the four-meter wall, making a lot of noise – enough to wake the dead.
Maybe some in the crowd thought for a moment about the irony of calling for social justice in a city like Jerusalem without protesting against what was happening behind that wall. But this was not part of the demonstrators’ agenda.
As these demonstrations in Israel were taking place, demonstrations were being held all over Palestine in solidarity with more than 1,500 prisoners who have been on a hunger strike already for weeks. At least two of them had been hospitalized in critical condition.
The demands of the prisoners: end administrative detentions which allow the state to arrest without charge, to imprison without trial, without a need to present any evidence of wrongdoing – not an unreasonable demand to the only democracy in the Middle East; end solitary confinement which for some prisoners has lasted years; return the right of education in prison, allow family visits for prisoners from Gaza who have not seen their families for six years – since the abduction of Gilad Schalit – and to end strip searches of prisoners.
Many of these demands now appear within a new law on the rights of prisoners which was passed in the Knesset just last week. Of course, in Israel, at the demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and in the other main cities, not one word was spoken about this issue. Prisoners’ rights are not on the agenda of the social protest movement of Israel’s middle class. Their situation doesn’t touch us, doesn’t affect our pocket and besides, they are the enemy, so who really cares about them? With the second largest government in the history of Israel, real changes could take place. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, there are no more excuses. The coalition will not fall; the government of Israel can be bold and can take courageous, historic steps.
Miri Regev, a very right-wing back bencher in the Likud, understood the momentous occasion and tried to get the government to support legislation that would annex the Israeli settlements to Israel – unilaterally annexing about 60 percent of the West Bank.
Almost at the last moment Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman woke up to the imminent danger and alerted the prime minister to the fact that such a move would be a disaster for the State of Israel, and that even Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir had not ventured into this right-wing fanaticide (fanatic national suicide wish).
No, Miri Regev, Hillary Clinton was not speaking about that kind of boldness, thank you very much.
Yes, she was saying that it is time Israel became a state with defined borders, but she was suggesting that it be the outcome of negotiations with the Palestinians and not as a result of opening a new political war between Israel and the world.
So back to the summer of discontent – no, Hillary Clinton should not have to tell us what to do, we should be doing that ourselves. All of the middle class demands, economic restructuring, ending privatization of public services, providing affordable public housing, bringing down the cost of living, taxing the wealthy, free education, creating a just and democratic welfare state – a social democracy can only be achieved in conjunction with ending our control over the Palestinian people and making peace with our neighbors.
This very unpopular truth cannot be hidden, it cannot be ignored and it will not go away by wishful thinking. So I invite the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets last summer to come out once again – not for an evening of entertainment with popular singers but for a real political struggle that will not be a passing illusion of accomplishment, but the real thing. We can recapture the hope and we can overcome despair. Let us be honest with ourselves and reconnect the obvious – social justice – YES, end the occupation – YES, peace with our neighbors – YES.
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.