As the protests rocking Israel entered their fourth week, geopolitical issues began to be heard and seen with much more force in tonight's rallies, signaling a shift that could portend inclusion of Palestinian issues into the protests by organizers in the foreseeable future (something that has yet to happen in an "official" capacity).
Tonight's protests in Israel, which were held in "peripheral" towns and communities outside of the major centers of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, not only drew significant numbers, but drew a diversity of voices – voices that brought up Palestinian issues along with the oft-heard social justice/economic demands.
Protesters in Jaffo add their voices to the movement. Photo by Moti Kimchi.
To give an indication of the numbers, 15,000 people crowded Afula's streets, a town with a population of only 40,000. Large numbers were seen in the cities of Haifa (30.000) and Beer Sheva (15,000), while thousands turned out in smaller towns, including the Arab town of Nazareth.
But most significant, in my mind, was not the massive numbers, but the diversity of voices included in these rallies, particularly the voices of Israeli-Arabs. Writes Dimi Reider at +972 Magazine:
Feminist Arab-Jewish blogger Lihi Yona posted on Facebook after attending one of the protests: “I’m just back form the Haifa demo… if I may, this was the most exciting experience I had in my life. The number of Arab women and men speaking to huge applause from the crowd made me believe there will be a just, equitable state here some day. [Author] Sami Michael, who chose to speak in both Arabic and Hebrew, and the Arab singer – and more importantly, the masses that rocked to that singer’s music – made this night the most amazing experience I ever had.”
“For years, I would feel the need to correct people when they’d say Haifa was a mixed city,” Yona told +972. “I would feel the need to point out that it’s not mixed, that it’s segregated. And tonight it really was an integrated city… there were more Arab speakers than Jews and each time someone would say, in Arabic, “Arabs and Jews,” the crowd understood and cheered them on.”
These protests, which followed last week's historic protests, in which 300,000 (5% of Israel's population) filled the streets, were strategically planned to awaken and include prominently Israelis who live in "peripheral" areas, including those from populations that are in lower income areas and working class towns.
The result was not only stirring, but dynamic as well.
As Noam Sheizaf and Mairav Zonszein wrote in Dissent Magazine today, there is no denying that the Arab-Israeli conflict must enter the discussion as these protests expand if protesters are to achieve true social justice in Israel:
The protesters’ call on the government to assume responsibility for the welfare of all its citizens necessarily calls attention not only to the marginalized lower and middle classes, but also to Palestinian citizens’ relations with the state—not to mention those Palestinians who are subject to Israeli control but are not even citizens. As the residents of the Tel Aviv tent camp are learning, without addressing those questions, social justice cannot be re-imagined or expanded.
Tonight, for the first time at these protests, a Palestinian woman got up to speak in Beer Sheva and demanded that Israel recognize the legitimacy of often-demolished Bedouin villages.
The crowd's response?
As protest leaders plan for a 1,000,000 citizen rally on September 3, it is not just the numbers which are growing.
The movement may be expanding to include geopolitical issues as well. It may be expanding to include social justice not just for all Israelis, but for all those under Israel's auspices in the West Bank. It's important to note that this has not happened yet, and may not happen in the near term (if at all).
Regardless, it's an auspicious time, indeed.
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