We parked the car and contemplated our 15 minute walk to Kaplan Street. Citizens of every shape size and colour were chanting”We want social justice” some with wee babies slung across their breasts or in push carts or on their Dad’s shoulders., Others carrying homecrafted banners,but all in good humour , despite the 70% humidity which caused the sweat to literally drip into my eyes. WE were walking towards Sarona where the central stage of what was to be the largest protest ever held in Tel Aviv, had been erected.
We stopped on the way to buy some “nish nushim “and cold drinks.The tantalizing aroma of “botz” coffee assailed my nostrils and as I turned, wearing ,my handpainted tee shirt saying”Change the Electoral System” one of the guys working there, said would you like some”?
So Israel,so Middle East, the place I love.
As my granddaughter was paying for our purchases I asked almost jokingly”Do I pay for the coffee”? “No, all the guys chanted together. “You are going to the demonstration, you are doing God’s work.”
Drinking noshing and chatting we wended our way through a sea of people flowing in from every direction, until the sky scrapers of the Azrielli towers loomed above. We arrived at Kaplan Street to discover that a moveable barrier had been erected and hefty,weary border guards and policemen were preventing any one from going through. “ You cannot enter” came through the microphones ”Turn around and go to Hashmonaim Street”. Reluctantly some of us started to move away, but as we gathered pace, others came towards us saying “go back its blocked”. The crowd at the barrier was becoming vociferous”Let us through” they chanted still good naturedly, if strident. I thought, there’s a reason for this and I doubt if the police will heed the crowd. I was becoming increasingly nervous that the crowd would force the barrier down and then God Knows what.
At that point there was a surge forward and my two grand daughters army trained of course, joined hands with me and their brother, rather like a ribbon, we were entwined. We moved forward but with massive pressure on my back, for a split second I felt creeping panic inside and thought if one person goes down, that’s the end.
One did and it was my girls, who formed a half circle around him to prevent a stampede. Then the barrier opened, I am not sure whether by our force or instructions from above and we sailed through into an half empty street which, instantly filled to capacity and pushed on to our destination.
Music and speeches from single mothers, students, youth leaders and so on greeted out ears. With a nod and a wink, the intrepid Harris family slid forward and more forward until we were almost facing the back of the stage .We managed to position ourselves against a barrier which the kids decided would be the best place for their Safta to stand. We had kicked ourselves for not bringing fans. Sweat was palpable all around and our clothes were saturated. By chance there wasI noticed a discarded cardboard banner at my feet. It was indeed heaven sent. I grabbed it and in a small but defined space I began to tear pieces off, which I gave to the kids saying ”Your fans”. People looked at us with questioning if not begging eyes and we tore our pieces of cardboard into halves and started to distribute them. I tore up the rest of the banner and eventually about 25 people in our vicinity, in tandem it seemed, created windmills, which had the most amazing effect.
Then a cry, we looked back to the scaffolded buildings which had once housed the Templars to see that dozens had climbed up on them. The scene was an incredible one off photo op. However there was profound risk in their actions. They were asked to come down, immediately and did, eventually..
An older woman next to me who probably had been an immigrant from North Africa, in her childhood, commented on the cheerfulness and sense of unity which was so exciting. I said” Aren’t you proud of these young people, I feel that somehow we failed.” She said “Me too, but for us it was about surviving.Feeding,housing and educating our kids was all we cared about”. Then we laughed”And today”?
One has to compare this peaceful demonstration in the year 2011, which represents a historic turning point, with the feelings that prevailed on the day that the State was born. Then we were full of hope, believing that leaders would fix it all for us. Tonight it was, we want our country back, our leaders have let us down, we want Israel to be, what was promised, a just and fair society for all our citizens.
Then the iconic pop singer Shlomo Artzi took the stage and the crowd burst out cheering and clapping and began singing along. Many of the young and not so young would be happy to pay good money to go to his concerts. Tonight, possibly for the biggest crowd he had ever performed for, it was his pleasure. It was what the protest was all about.
Sarona was not deliberately chosen as a place to demonstrate it’s far from the PM’s residence but the link to the protest was profound indeed.
Sarona was established as a colony for German Knight Templars in 1871 it was proclaimed “the Kingdom of God”
The lands that encompassed Sarona have changed hands many times. First sold to the Templers by the GreekChurch, for huge profits, it was a malarial marshland, which the templars drained, creating groves of Jaffa oranges whose fragrance intoxicated the land. They also expanded their activities to Haifa, and the Kinnereth.
With the rapid expansion of the Jewish city of Tel Aviv; the Templars engaged in exploitative land profiteering. After World War I, the British sent the Templars packing, but members of the sect were later allowed to return. They were banished for a second and final time when their Nazi connections were discovered in the late 1930s.
After WWII, their Kingdom of God came to a complete and final end. The last Templers left Israel in the early 1950’s. They were compensated by the State of Israel for their property. The money came from the restitution payments made by the German government for crimes against the Jewish people during the Holocaust. The carefully tended groves of Jaffa oranges are long gone, buried, forgotten beneath the concrete, steel and asphalt of modern day Tel Aviv. The bones of those that lovingly planted the groves as part of their beliefs, peacefully await the Second Coming.
So on this night, profiteering, property and idealism came together in a positive demonstration for, as the organizers cried out ”We have no other home, we love this land that’s why we want to make it better and we appeal to the government ”Help us to do this, as its for us all”
We with the hundreds of thousands who went out that night not only in Tel Aviv but all over the country slowly wended our way home, some to tents, but all with a feeling of belonging.
It is predicted that people will again take to the streets in the long hot summer which will precede the elections on September 4th.Their disappointment in the lack of progress in finding workable solutions to their demands of 2011 coupled with the escalating costs which are making life even more intolerable, should topple this government if they “put their money where their mouths, where”. However while looking for better options or regressing into the apathy we have seen in past years we may well end up with more of the same,or God Forbid worse.