Sunday was a turning point in the resistance movement here in Israel. More than 10,000 people, Palestinian and Jewish Israelis from across the country, dressed mostly in white, marched quietly with 141 caskets – one for each fatal victim of the epidemic of violence and organized crime in the Arab sector since January 1st — to the square of the Tel Aviv Museum, where we heard speakers from the victims’ families and somber songs by Israeli artists.
Photo Credit: Amir Tarkel
It was called “The March of the Dead” and it was one of the most powerful demonstrations I have ever experienced.
While there has been some participation on the part of Israeli Palestinians in the resistance movement, there have not been hordes coming out to protest. I personally know a number of Palestinian Israeli activists who speak at protests around the country and others who participate in demonstrations regularly, but this is not the norm. There are a variety of reasons for this:
The sea of Israeli flags that is the symbol of the protests (but when Palestinian Israelis brought the Palestinian flag, they were told to put it away); fear of being the victim of police brutality and arrest because of their nationality; the feeling that it is hypocritical to fight to save a democracy that was never a full democracy in the first place; despair that nothing will improve their second-class status in this country; and lack of trust in the leaders of the resistance movement to prioritize issues important to the Arab sector (such as ending the occupation, canceling the Nation-State Law, and fighting the horrific gun violence mostly due to organized crime in the Arab sector).
Sunday’s demonstration was organized by groups in the Arab sector (and some joint Arab-Jewish partnership groups) and they set the tone. But it was purposely located in the heart of Tel Aviv, although that is not where the violence is happening. The message was our whole society is suffering when one sector suffers, like an organism with one hurting limb — the pain is felt throughout.
Mouhammed and his daughter holding photos of Amaar. Courtesy of Sokina Taoon
There were no Israeli flags, and no cheers or chants. Signs were mostly in Arabic, but there were some in English and Hebrew as well. And those who participated from the mainstream resistance movement honored that request. It was moving to see.
Speakers were mostly from families of the victims. Muhammed Hajira, father of four-year-old Amaar who was killed in crossfire while playing in the park in their Beoduin village, Bir al Maksur, which is adjacent to my kibbutz, Hannaton, spoke of the devastating day his son was murdered, and of how the government has done nothing to support his family in their mourning or in the ongoing trial of the accused murderer.
Badiye Hanifas, a feminist activist and wife of a deputy mayor of Shefaram, ten minutes from Hannaton, spoke as well. Her 28-year-old daughter, Johara, was murdered with a car bomb.
Badiye Hanifas. Photo Credit: Sokina Taoon
Badiye spoke also of her pain and the criminal neglect on the part of the current government, who are too busy pushing ahead their personal agenda. Internal Security Minister Ben Gvir pledged to battle this crisis but has — not surprisingly — only made it worse.
I was at the mourning tents for both Amaar and Johara. This is a phenomenon happening in my backyard, in villages I frequent. To people I know.
Most chilling was watching the Arab male youth carrying the caskets, each with a line in Arabic stating what the victim was doing when they were killed, while female youth walked in lines in white ghost-like costumes. They consider themselves potential next victims. I teach English and do other programming with youth from the surrounding Arab villages, and this is how many of them feel. It is heartbreaking and must not continue.
Courtesy of Sokina Taoon
Courtesy of Sokina Taoon
It was encouraging to see the variety of people who came to participate: Arabic speakers and Hebrew speakers, religious and secular, young and elder. I was walking behind two ultra-Orthodox men for a while during the march. While there are many Jews in this country — some in our government — who feel their blood is redder than that of Palestinian Israeli citizens — and certainly redder than that of Palestinians in the occupied territories, this is not true for all Jews here. That is important to note.
Photo credit: Haviva Ner-David
I was glad to see someone with a sign with the biblical verse going through my head since this crisis began, a verse I quoted when speaking about this issue at our Standing Together conference last month, the moral imperative that pushed me to go all the way to Tel Aviv last night for the demonstration despite other commitments and the fact that I knew I would only return around midnight. I am not good about making signs for demonstrations, but if I had made one it would have said this:
לא תעמוד על דם רעך
DO NOT STAND BY WHILE YOUR NEIGHBOR’S LIFE IS AT STAKE (Leviticus 19:16)
But literally, it means do not stand on your neighbor’s blood. With so many victims from my neighboring towns, cities, and villages, I do feel I am standing on their blood, and it is horrifying.
Do not stand by while your neighbor’s life is at stake. Photo credit: Haviva Ner-David
I pray last night’s demonstration is the beginning of more partnership between the leaders of the resistance movement and activists and leaders in the Arab sector. Because only together do we have any chance to topple this government and create the change we want to see here.