Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

In the name of protest

In the name of protest

I have the  press cutting in front of me and I intend to go to see the   photographic exhibition of protests which have taken place over the past 6 decades, currently  running at Beit Avi Chai.   To quote from the cutting”protests aren’t worth much if there’s no one around to witness them”

Its not that I haven’t ”been there, done that” for most of my life, but to try to make sense of it all. Protest is not just a display of anger, discontent  and burning tyres,   it’s also about freedom and hope. When we stood in London with banners during the late 60’s and 70’s often in incongruous costumes, to make the point about Soviet Jewry, we thought that it might be mission impossible. However together with those indominitable activists in the USSR we influenced governments and realized the dream.    For those who have the motivation, courage and energy to leave their comfort zone and get out there it’s the “little me” doing something to bring  about change, not only for myself,   but also for those who will not physically, get out on the streets.

One must not discount the “ones” the protesters leave at home in   their comfort or discomfort zone. Therefore the 400,000 who filled every crevice in central Tel Aviv on the night of the final “Social Justice Demo” represented at least one million people if not more, in tiny Israel.

Today on Kol Israel a leader of the Black Panthers the famous protest movement of the early seventies, said and rightly so, the failure of the leaders of last summer’s dynamic movement to form a political entity, is the reason that no real change can be expected in our society.

The protests were not about the conflict between us and the Palestinians. I was at some of the multitude of  “round tables” in the tents, where endless somewhat steamy debates took place, about changing the electoral system, religious freedom, women’s rights, education, affordable homes and so on. As would be expected in a democratic society, arabs, settlers, even haredim were to be found, involved in the debate, although in smaller numbers.   Cynicism and irony aside, we share a common love of this tiny strip of land. We want to be here more than any other place in this world. 60 years on and we are still blaming everyone but ourselves for the failure to find a peaceful  two state solution, for our economic woes(connected or not to the conflict) for the influx of foreign workers and more.. Ovdim zarim as they are called do the menial jobs that Israelis don’t want. Israeli arabs   complain that they are denied work in the fields because imported workers are cheaper.  How good were those early days when a jewish tourist would arrive and say  ”Do, Jews really clean the streets”??  . Deep down we are afraid of changing the status quo. We are defined as either left or right, we vote as our fathers did. We as a nation are still   heavily influenced by our tradition and past as well as recent history. This causes us to be afraid to rock the boat when it comes to religious freedom,civil rights and obligation or the empowerment of minorities, who should be sharing the common burden as well as receiving the benefits. Women have not realized how effective they could be in the   political arena. They are concerned   with getting their kids educated to higher standards but at the end of the day, not about improving the education system through early childhood to academia.

Have they thought about what their kids will do when it comes to the job market and how many will seek brighter climes, when they cannot get money for research or  earn a decent wage.?  Isn’t it better to be a   doctor treating ones own people and raising standards so that we can go out and help others, than being outside?  It was the mouthpiece of the Ministry of Health Yaakov Litzman who during the   recent, abhorrent doctor’s strikes stated” If they don’t go back to work we will import doctors”.

When we were kids we cried   ”Mummy make it better, make it go away”. Well its not B’Ezrat Hashem(with God’s help) or Mummy and Daddy, the bottom line is its up it’s up to us.

Sitting safely for the moment perhaps, in TA while rockets rain on our major towns in the south I think of my own experience as a child, in WW2 through the months of rocket attacks on Southern England.    Most Israelis   and certainly our critics   around the world cannot conceive that, IT’S THE living with   uncertainty that has the crushing psychological effect.  There’s no time for significant warning because you cannot hear the bloody things   which can at any moment, blow you off your feet or worse. It’s not about if I am going to get hit, but when? To this day when a door slams or a car backfires I jump out of my skin. The emotional scars are permanent. So, after all these years why isn’t every habitation reinforced? As Africa is to the West, so the people on Israel’s Northern and Southern borders are not a priority. In terms of voting   and purchasing power the periphery is peripheral. The protesters this summer were voting power par excellence.  Their slogan”I am an Israeli who does not want to leave”. They are the salt of the earth (amcha -the locals) who take their children, on a sunny Shabbat and even on a blustery one in the winter, to connect with nature. Those,     who in our public parks hang balloons amongst the trees to celebrate a birthday.   The second generation who sing songs of Eretz Israel without actually knowing why and over feed their families (the fortunate ones)   on Shabbat and festivals..


The Israeli people are great, just move around the country sit on buses talk to them, everyone has a story and the majority have hope. Perhaps the proximity to the desert around us has taught us that change comes slowly and not all is good.

However with Bibi’s popularity on the rise again and not because he brought Gilad Shalit home, we are looking at a blurry future ahead. Make your mind up is not in his vocabulary. The Israeli people have not internalized lessons from what happened last summer or what is happening now, in the neighbours’ backyards. Until we change our electoral system to enable true accountability of those we elect we should at least sign up to a political list with whom we identify and vote in their primaries, the minimum of minimum effort to assert influence.

Maybe the recent publication of demographic statistics in Jerusalem will cause a sea change in decision making? Who knows? In the meantime   smile for the camera on your next protest and expect more burning tyres.

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.