Text and photo by Gili Karev
Young people walked arm in arm down the noisy streets of Rothschild Blvd. Couples lounged on dilapidated couches dragged from abandoned apartments, leafing through articles boasting vibrant, presumptuous headlines or nodding their heads to the music drifting through the crowd. Guitarists sat cross-legged, playing their favorite Bob Dylan or Jefferson Airplane cover songs. An enormous Israeli flag hung impressively across from Habima Square, three giant tears dripping emblematically from the Star of David and into the subconscious of every passer-by. This commune, this unity, this open theater for opinions, artist, musicians – this revolution, if you will, is directly reminiscent of the 1960s hippie movement. The substantial difference? Continuity.
This past summer Israel saw the biggest and most influential protest in her short and vital history, yet today – a mere few weeks after the last tents have been folded up and squashed back into storage – the heat has simmered to the point of near disregard. Rothschild Blvd. is clean as a whistle as Tel Aviv City Hall frantically sends cleaners, sweepers and servicemen to replant, reconstruct and recreate its culture hub into what it was before Israel’s young people began protesting for a pure democracy and a more feasible social policy. Banners have been stamped over with posters of upcoming concerts and fashion fairs. The streets have returned to their daily traffic of too many cars and swift bicyclists weaving skillfully around casual wanderers.
Have we forgotten the essence of this summer’s social upheaval? Or did this protest become more of an extended social gathering than a true declaration and desire for change? I say both. My roommate likes to argue with me that politics and society are not mutually exclusive, and while I secretly agree with him I like to claim that, for the sake of a good argument, society functions according to basic human instinct. Aristotle theorized that politics is an organism comprised of men who, by nature, are political creatures. The word ‘organism’ here is a heavy one, alluding to a deeply woven craving to be connected, united, as one. To be a part of something, anything, is what each of us strives for our entire lives. But in a demonstration of nearly half a million people, how many are there adamant for change and how many just swing by to talk gossip and show off their new iPhone application? Does it matter, really, in the grand scheme of things?
What matters is what we are assembling for. Part of the Israeli charm is diversity of opinion and the animated way in which those opinions are expressed. In a situation where the streets are turned into a stage for social unrest and frustration, it’s not surprising that the public grabbed the opportunity to negate just about anything that didn’t fit into their philosophy of life. The idea for a fundamental change for social justice is pure and respectable; protestors for animal rights and divorced women's organizations are not less so, but are inconveniently irrelevant and detract from the central theme. Israel needs to unite under one common goal – not one common outrage for everything wrong in this world. If we do want to make a difference there must be a certain order of things. If you are bothered by global warming, save it for the next revolution.
It’s no secret that Israel has been demonized and ostracized by the world, even more so in recent years. Was this protest then a subconscious effort to relegitimatize from the inside what others are delegitimizing out there in the world? Some will claim that the two are separate entities: Israel must change her policies and change them fast, before her own people start losing hope in the country they call 'home'. Others claim that there can be no distinction, as internal change is the imperative foundation for a stronger international system. The fact is that the people spoke. Be it about changing Israel’s social policies or their own current scandals, their voices rang into a mighty cacophony of gusto. Ideas have been planted and there is strength in the numbers that, for whatever reason, decided to put on their best outfit and parade in the streets. What’s important is maintaining the momentum created by whatever force – social or political – that got this thing up and running.
The problem now is continuing to harvest this seed of change that has been planted for future generations. Letting it sit in a soil so susceptible to weeds will be devastating and counterproductive. Israel’s public is waiting for the next opportunity to wave protest banners or, simultaneously, promote their new musical initiative. Even if right now it is nothing more than an unconscious change, we are subtly cultivating a new era of passion and involvement throughout Israel.
We, the young people, the protestors and dreamers and thinkers of our future and our children’s futures, are the power behind this movement. I’m not implying that everyone needs to feel passionate about politics or to be completely informed of the political goings-on in the country. Even if your excuse is just to catch the eye of the cute guy with the megaphone, do it. Be a part. And let the gripping, chilling notes of Hatikva fill your heart as it did the other 350,000 people standing silently and, listening to hope, cheer loudly.