Rattling The Cage: Israel’s lost generation

Longing for a Tahrir Sq. revolt of their own but lacking any large moral purpose, the country’s young people protest over relative trivialities.

Tent City 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Tent City 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
We’re in the run-up to September, when Israel and the Palestinians have a date with destiny at the UN. Abroad, attention is building, supporters on both sides are turning up the volume. For Israel, for what it stands for, this is a time of heightened significance that’s rising to a climax. Between September and the Knesset assault on democracy, you could even say we’re in a moral crisis.
And the country’s young generation, its college students, its best and brightest, its future leaders, have gone out into the streets to protest for lower rents.
This is sad. This is a generation that, for all its world music and world travel, is cut off from any political changes happening in the world. They live in a country that’s retreating from the world, that’s politically stagnant, petrified; they don’t like it, but they don’t know how to change it, so the only material they have to work with, the only thing they believe they might be able to improve, is their own personal lives.
So forget these flotillas, forget the anti-dissent laws, forget September, forget Israel and Palestine, forget the world – let’s just see if we can do something about my rent, which is really killing me.
In their tent camps in Tel Aviv, they talk about Tahrir Square to the TV reporters, that this is their Tahrir Square. So sad. These are really bright, lively young people, and their world is so narrow – because they live in a country that fears the world, that tries to keep it out, that doesn’t let any new oxygen in, that has grown old and so awfully cynical.
What a dismal country to be in if you’re young and idealistic. Great place to party, but soul-killing. Maybe not for young Israelis who fight to change it, but there are so few of them.
They have so much energy, Israel’s young people, and they have nothing larger than themselves to give it to.
They wish they did – they envied their Egyptian peers in Tahrir Square, they envied the young Americans who mobilized for Obama. They want to do it here in Israel, and they sense that this country needs real change, a brand new direction, that it’s eating itself alive – but they don’t know which way to go or how to get there.
THIS IS a lost generation. They’re not right-wing, they’re not left-wing, they’re wingless. They’re grounded. They want careers, family, travel, the good life, but they’re empty inside. They don’t believe in settling the West Bank, they’re waiting in resignation for the next war, they don’t think there will ever be peace. They have no vision of a healthy future for this country – none of the “leaders” here has described one to them – and they feel disconnected from the rest of the world, so they live in their little circles and don’t think about what’s beyond, because out there it’s just bad and getting worse.
And what makes this doubly sad is that these young people are not by nature selfish or self-absorbed; Israelis grow up around people, around friends and family, and they learn to look out for each other. These students in the tent camps care about each other. They’d like this rent protest to grow into something bigger, into Tahrir Square – but for what cause? They don’t know, and when this is over, they’ll go back inside their little circles and close their ears to the racket that’s getting louder outside.
This is not what the young generation should be doing in a country like this at a time like this. In the past, there would have been tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands in the streets protesting against the government, demanding peace with the Palestinians.
MOST ISRAELIS would probably say that today’s young are just acting rationally, that they didn’t give up on peace, peace gave up on them.
It’s not true – the whole world is trying to tell Israel it’s not true – but people here refuse to believe it, and this is the country in which these college students in their sleeping bags have grown up. A country that’s cut itself off from the world, from the future. So these young people take all that great energy and social conscience and hope and pour it into the cause of lower rents, while the nation of Israel goes on like an old, paranoid shut-in screaming out the window.
As the local saying goes, an outsider can’t understand it.
The writer blogs at Israel Reconsidered (www.israelleft.com).