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There is no turning back
Haggai Matar
MySay, Aug. 7, 2011
Translation Adam Keller

In the history being written in the streets of our cities these days, it is possible to discern different stages of development. The demonstration of the last Saturday night, which was probably the largest demonstration in Israel`s history, marks the dividing line between a developing protest movement which has no clear way, and a revolution which now seems unstoppable.

It is easy and enticing to give in to the momentary excitement, the heart beating which echoes the beating of drums and chants of the crowd. Easy, and perhaps even blinding. Yet, I have no doubt that what happened here on that evening is the beginning of a new era in Israel`s history and in its political arena.

The hundreds of thousands who took to the streets, clogging the streets of Tel Aviv in the huge rally and filling squares in cities between Eilat and Kiryat Shmona, via Jerusalem, Hod Hasharon and Baka al-Gharbiya, marked the watershed. Three weeks of struggle have began with ten tents on Rothschild Boulevard; grew to several tens of thousands of protesters who could still be castigated as `Sushi-eating Leftists `; evolved to a nationwide protest which the PM could still afford to dismiss and ignore as `populist`. Now it had become clear, once and for all, that the people in their entirety demand Social Justice, and they are not about to compromise or go home.

A state for all its citizens - just, popular, right

Not only the number of people was revolutionary, but also the connections created between them and the messages they carried. Residents of the Hatikva slum neighborhood, spearheaded by fans of the Beni Yehudah and Betar football teams, marched along with Arabs from Jaffa and called for a real public housing (and a revolution). Shira Ohayon, one of the featured speakers, voiced her outcry as a single parent mother, as an Oriental (`speaker of Arabic, my mother tongue`) and as a resident of the periphery, and embarked on the tremendous task of breaking this country`s security cult when she re-defined the term: `Residents in Israel have no security, for security is first and foremost a home, a livelihood, a future.` [Full text of Ohayon`s speech in the end.]

Odeh Basharat, the first Arab to address one of these rallies, welcomed the huge crowd in front of him, and recalled that the struggle for social justice has always been the struggle of the Arab public, which constantly suffers from inequality, discrimination, racism, political, and the demolition of houses from Ramla, Lydda and Jaffa to Al-Arakib. Not only did he get an applause from a crowd of more than a hundred thousand people, but also many in the crowd started chanting `Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!`. And a short film was screened, taken at various tent encampments around the country, in which Jews and Arabs spoke – including one religious activist – repeating the simple message that `The time has come for this to be the state for all its citizens`. A state for all its citizens. As a wide popular demand. Who would have believed it?

Meanwhile, in the crowd the messages on the signs are radicalizing, and the greatest applause was given to Charlie Biton, who said that `If the government fails to hear the message of the crowd, we will force it to listen`. A giant sign, carried all along the route of the march, had a single word in Arabic - `Arhl` (`Go!`). The byword of the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Egypt.

A lot more remains to be done, a very great deal. The power born here can no longer be stopped or maneuvered, and it is clear that the extreme right could not defeat it, but still its biggest challenge is to integrate the Arab public in the struggle. Now is the time to set up tents in every Arab community, and make the leadership as well as the grassroots have a joint Jewish-Arab character.

It`s already happening on the ground, slowly, and it needs to grow further. It must grow to the point that it is clear these rallies would no longer be possible for speakers (such as Rabbi Benny Lau in the last one) to define the partnership here as `Settlers and Left-Zionists who know each other from shared regular and reserve military service.`
It must grow to the point that in future rallies it would be impossible for Hatikva (Israeli national anthem) to be played from the podium. Like in the first weeks of protest, those who wish to could sing it from the audience, while the official rally should start promoting a new anthem, one which could really include everybody.

And then the revolution, the revolution of which it is already safe to say that it will have huge achievements and change this country`s political spectrum for at least the next decade, would really be the largest revolution we have ever known here. A true grassroots revolution for Social Justice in a country which is for all its citizens. In this situation, even the occupation could not hold out much longer. And all that is already at hand.

Grassroots democracy works

Some of the power of this revolution lies in the unbelievable democratization process which it is undergoing. In the first week the popular assembly at the Rotchild Boulevard Encampment were not much more than a huge Hyde Park, unable to form into an organized political body. The second week resolutions started to be taken, but they were able to fully influence the actions of veteran founder leadership (Daphne, Stav and their fellows). In the third week the assemblies, now held at all encampments, became the true sovereign of the struggle.

At the meeting on Friday, hundreds of activists gathered at Rotchild were told of the forming model of the movement. The veteran leadership agreed to recognize the sovereignty of the camps, and accepted the demand of the encampment representatives` meeting that this meeting take up leadership of the struggle. The model that was agreed upon was that assemblies at every encampment convene on a daily basis, for updates and local decision making. Encampments representatives would meet once a week at a general meeting, where general decisions would be made. Four members of the `veteran leadership`, along with five representatives of the five regions in the country (North, South, Jerusalem, Central and Tel Aviv), will be the executive body of the general assembly resolutions, to whom may be added in the near future representatives of sectors particularly affected by the housing situation.

All bodies shall act with complete transparency and publish their resolutions and actions on the internet, and there will be devised systems for transferring information between cities, as well as transferring money, food, logistical assistance, personnel, and so on. In short – an interlinked, living and breathing country-wide movement, with solidarity and democracy as its byword.

At Friday`s meeting in Rotchild there was taken by a huge majority a resolution condemning the extreme right incursion. The assembly`s resolution stated that: `The tent encampment will include any group or person without reservations as to their identity, whether on grounds of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, place of residence, etc. The encampment condemns any slogan/chanting/action aimed at excluding a group or person from the encampment due to their identity (e.g. `Rotchild for Jews only` or `The Ultra-Orthodox have no place here`) and the person or group promoting such slogans or action would be asked to stop it. If it does not stop, there will be public condemnation and a request upon the person/group to leave the encampment.`

The message is clear: this struggle belongs to everyone, and therefore does not belong to racists who try to divide us. This message should now be taken up at the national level, and as stated - to be implemented in practice through a historical link between the revolutionary movement and the Arab public. And it is already happening, I tell you – it is, and it will lead us to victory.

The people resolved upon Social Justice!


This call will not go away - people want justice!
By Shira Ohayon
Speech at the Tel Aviv Rally, Saturday night August 6. 2011
Translated by Adam Keller

Good evening to all my brothers and sisters of the protest, the heroes and heroines of the revolution. I am Shira Ohayon, a single mother, born in Dimona. Living in a rented apartment in Ashdod, active in the struggle of the workers and the musicians of the New Andalusian Orchestra to save it from being closed down, a teacher and educator in Israel.

Today I came to tell you, on behalf of all my sisters in the slums, towns and villages throughout the country, that I`m sick and tired! We`re tired of the state hitting at us again and again: because we are women, because we`re single parent mothers, because we`re Oriental, because we live in neighborhoods and towns, because we`re teachers, because we`re artists, because we speak our mother tongue – Arabic! – and this time because we get up and protest against the brutal capitalist system which has made us poor, unemployed, homeless, which trampled upon our dignity. We are neither spoiled nor parasitic! All we ask is to live in dignity and have a future for our children.

We have no security in the State of Israel. Security begins at home - with housing, with fair employment, with health, education and welfare, as well as with culture. Culture is not a luxury. Artists are starving in the State of Israel. For years we were separated by walls and fences made of concrete as well as of hatred and racism, and we were set at each other`s throats to fight for the crumbs of the crumbs left to us by the tycoons, after they took over all the country`s resources.

All my life I have been swimming against the tide. Along with my brothers and sisters of the `Ahoti` (`My Sister`) movement I have been struggling for the women of Israel, for quality education to residents of slum neighborhoods and towns, for good quality teachers, for the rights of mothers, for the rights of creative artists, and for distributive justice in housing, land and cultural resources.

The State of Israel gives us no security, none at all. Security begins at home, housing, fair employment, health, education and welfare, as well as culture.

I paid and I`m still paying a painful personal price. For the first time in my life, I find myself swimming with the tide. With God`s help, with this wonderful flood of solidarity and brotherhood and sisterhood which is sweeping the whole country - from Eilat, though Dimona, Baka and Nazareth to Kiryat Shmona, demanding a real correction of wrongs and abuses. We owe great thanks to the revolutionary initiators Daphne Leaf, Stav Shafir and their fellows, who brought out the masses of citizens to the tents and city squares and gave us, the majority in this country, an opportunity to cry out our pain, to talk about hurts and concerns and struggle together for hope, for effecting a change!

Even residents of the poor South Tel Aviv neighborhoods, Shapira and Neve Shaanan, and Kfar Shalem and Hatikva and Jaffa to protest and cry out shout about the neglect of years; today, so do residents of North Tel Aviv. `If there is no equality, there is no peace and if there is no peace there is no equality` – so said the `Black Panthers`, who initiated the culture of protest and of the call for social justice in Israel.

Today we are all here: men and women, Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, new immigrants and veteran Israelis, religious and secularists, residents of the South, Centre and North, migrant slaves and refugees – all of us united together, determined to restore the sovereignty of this country to us, its citizens. Social justice and distributive justice - we will compromise for nothing less. We have reached the point of no return. From revolution there is no turning back, until we change the system and reach full equality, regardless of gender, religion, color, origin, nationality or sexual orientation. We are all human beings and equal citizens, not slaves nor subjects!

Mr. Prime Minister, we have had enough of the extreme capitalist policy which you have instituted: you have reduced the taxation on the barons of capital, whose greed is insatiable - and you have cut down education, welfare, health!

We are here to tell you tonight with a clear and loud voice:

No more! The people want another way! The people want an opposite direction! The people want justice!

Your government disengaged from the people. But make no mistake: the people will not go away!

And this call will not go away: Yes. People want social justice!

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