I sit in Migdal Hameah or Century Tower in Tel Aviv’s busy Ibn Gbriol St, the thoroughfare for all protesters for years.I am waiting for a doctor in an atmosphere of calm, tranquility and efficiency.So different from the early years of Kupat Cholim which was the major medical fund for every worker, from its inception by a group of agricultural workers and taken over by the Histadrut(General Federation of Labour) in 1920. In the early days any visit to a public establishment was fraught with frustration. The nightmare of queues or sitting on hard metal chairs waiting forever and toilets which were far from sparkling. Anxiety usually causes us to run to the toilet before an examination. I am greeted by a lovely middle aged lady in a spotless white gown wiping the adjacent basin as I wash my hands. She is inspecting each cubicle for a sign of dirt.It could be the Hilton. She thanks me when I thank her for the service. Altogether my visit is most pleasant,the doctor inspires confidence and I have to acknowledge how fortunate we are and how much progress has been made over the years.
While waiting I glance at the ubiquitous TV screen and reflect on last night’s “social justice “demo which I joined at the Tel Aviv museum.
For me the venue was significant , the museum and Beit Ariella,next door are a veritable a font of literature, art and music, symbolizing a healthy and erudite society. Maybe just the site for the outpouring of the pain and “hurt” as Professor Yonah the iconic leader of last summer’s protests put it.
“We are overwhelmed by the violence of actions of our government and hurting deep inside.Its not only about social justice, in economic, welfare and educational terms, its also about freedom, taking responsibility and accountability”. Zeev Even- Chen a retired police commander was the “surprise” speaker of the event and the audience hung on to his every word and refraining from any political chanting during his speech. The father of Topaz, who burned to death in the Carmel disaster of December 2010 said that he had kept silent until now although he wanted to support the the protest last summer. He did not want to speak out until the State Controller’s report had been made public. He said social justice is all down to accountability from those elected to lead us and determine our future irrespective of which political party they represent. He announced that he has now petitioned the High Court of Justice against all those whom he considers responsible for the death of his daughter and more than 40 more of her colleagues.When I had approached the demo I noticed crowds of police officers sitting on the corner of Jabotinsky St, just chatting away. When I left the same guys were….doing the same.
On the bus earlier I had heard the announcement that our late Prime Minister Yitshak Shamir had died.I knew that he had been for years under medical care for a condition so unseemly for such a personality and so hard for his family.
In the morning papers I saw photos of him looking determined and dour but I knew the other side of him.
During all the years of his leadership of our government in the 80’s I had been working to promote Israel’s image, by facilitating visits journalists and other VIP’s from the UK and Ireland.
In 1985 President Chaim Herzog was invited to Ireland for an official and emotional state visit. A bevvy of Irish journalists from all the media had been sent over to bring images of “Chaim Herzog’s Israel” to the Irish people ahead of his visit.It was my job to set up all the relevant meetings which I really enjoyed because the Irish people are full of good humour,poetry and drama and were interested in every facet of our society.
Being acutely aware of how journalist create their headline I was quite apprehensive about their reaction to our Prime Minister’s history.
We were altogether 6 people and he greeted us warmly.Once we were seated he stood up and with a twinkle in his eye which was mesmerising, he said”Do you know what they called me in LEHI? LEHI was an underground movement (fighters for Israel’s freedom) which violently confronted the British occupiers during the years leading up to the war of Independance!
Do you know that my “nickname” was Michael?
Michael Collins was the leader of the IRA. There was a moment’s pregnant silence and then they all burst out laughing and clapping. I squirmed in my seat and thought of the headline which would appear in Ireland’s most popular newspaper the next day.
So thinking about him whilst standing in that sweaty, good humoured and still hopeful crowd of young to middle aged Israelis, I wondered what he a straight,honest old time politician would have felt this night?
On TV the other day Ben Caspit said to Miri Regev”Begin would turn in his grave at your words”
Will you too,Yitshak?
“Baruch Dayan Emet”