342 WhatsApp messages.
While I was meeting up with a friend, protests spontaneously erupted on the streets. By the time I looked at my phone, it had ended.
342 WhatsApp messages. 3,000 people.
Beer Sheva, dubbed by the Economist “a sleepy town,” not only woke up at 22:00, but woke up to protest the firing of the defense minister.
I scroll through Facebook for updates. It’s 1 a.m. but I can’t yet sleep. Hours before, my friend Moran wrote a post asking for someone to go with her to the protest. She suffers from PTSD and up until now, supported the protests from afar, but now she wanted to take part in the struggle.
The next day, there were protests in Jerusalem. This time, I didn’t go. I stayed at home in Beer Sheva to protest in my city. To protest in a city where there are still posters from the last election: pictures of Ben Gvir with a slogan that urges people to remember “who owns this place”
I, along with hundreds of thousands of Israelis, answer him by protesting.
In Beer Sheva alone, a city that mainly votes Likud, what started as a small yet successful protest of a thousand people exponentially exploded to 20,000 protestors within 10 weeks. One protestor carried a sign “I voted Bibi only to receive a fragmented society.” That poster probably rang true with many of the protestors.
Last Saturday night, I stood with my daughter and my father who was visiting from Toronto. Three generations protesting together: one a Zionist from afar, one who made aliyah 17 years ago, and a young sabra that has learned more about democracy in the past two months than most adults learn in a lifetime.
An Ethiopian activist opened with her speech. I tried to translate simultaneously to my father, but was unprepared for what she had to say: “Another woman was murdered this weekend by her husband.” I hadn’t checked the news. I hadn’t checked my WhatsApp. I didn’t know.
I also didn’t realize that my 7 year- old daughter was listening attentively and looked at me with tears in her eyes: “Why did he kill her?”
My daughter doesn’t yet understand that I work with women who are victims of violence. I don’t tell her that every time I hear of a woman being murdered, I selfishly pray it is not someone I know. And I definitely don’t know how to explain to my daughter why the government decided not to pass a law that would require men with a restraining order to have an ankle monitor in order to prevent them from breaking that same restraining order.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!”
In the meantime, the crowd already gave her the only answer I have:
“Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Later I learned that part of the coalition agreements is that no legislation will be passed until all the reforms have been passed. Therefore, no one in the coalition can vote in favor of a law that can save women’s lives. They do however pass laws that give Bibi more funds for clothes and that allow for government officials to receive gifts.
Later on, I received a WhatsApp message with a picture of a protestor’s sign:
“More women have been murdered in 2023 than there are women in government.”
Shame. Shame. Shame.
So I left work on Monday afternoon to continue protesting. And when I received a WhatsApp message asking people to come out and protest Monday night as well, I called my friend Moran to see if she wanted to join. She did.
As did another friend who didn’t make it to the protest in the afternoon because of an anxiety attack, but worked up the strength to go in the evening. And yet another friend who was previously too scared to go to protests, but found the courage to join this one.
By the time Moran and I arrived at the protest, the main street was already closed. As opposed to Saturday night, and even that same afternoon, there weren’t a lot of protestors in the crowd: mainly students who still had energy left to yell.
I scanned the crowds looking for my friends only to see a crowd of people rushing us. It was dark and all I saw were people in black running towards us, like in “Vikings”.
My friend Moran called me to leave fast. My heart was racing and I still couldn’t find one of my friends.
“Where are the police?”
We stood back but didn’t leave. Moran started to take a video of the scene. I stayed with her but desperately wanted to walk away.
I felt sick. This wasn’t like other protests that were fun and filled with people walking and singing. There was literally a crowd of people holding Likud flags cursing us. Threatening us.
“Bibi is King!”
“You are a disgusting Ashkenazi!”
“Go to Hell!”
Later I learned that their permit to protest was far from us and that they had chosen to break the police barrier in order to rush towards us yelling. The police called for backup and managed to keep us separated at the last moment.
I don’t know what the pro-reform protestors planned on doing. But I felt threatened. There have already been protestors run over by cars and I didn’t want to be in the middle of a fight. I wanted to leave and was thankful that I didn’t have my kids with me.
After being cursed at and threatened, I moved away, still trying to find one of my friends. Eventually I found everyone, and they wanted to stay.
So we moved away from the pro-Bibi protest and stayed.
And sang. And sang. And sang.