I've often wondered what will happen when the last of the eyewitnesses to the Holocaust dies off. There are still enough Holocaust deniers out there, and enough media capable of rewriting history, that it's possible that the genocide that took place in Germany in the WWII era will be forgotten, or worse, whitewashed. And in a world in which austerity is taking the place of plenty, and which scapegoating is already on the rise, one wonders how long it's going to take for populations to start blaming the Jews again...or does it even matter, since SOMEONE is going to be scapgoated. It's time that those who believe the Holocaust needs to be remembered start to set their sights on preventing genocide against ALL people.
Perhaps this is part of what young Jews in Israel are trying to do, during weeks of protests that have received little to no coverage in this country, probably because they fly in the face of the kind of rubber-stamping of Israeli policies that has characterized both US foreign policy and media coverage.
But there is something going on in Israel, and while I still have no hope for the future of our country, I think it's just possible that we can have hope for the future of that one.
Check out this photo diary at the Great Orange Satan from the protests. And then go about your day with these words from this speech given by Daphni Leef, a 27-year-old Israeli activist:
My generation grew up with the feeling that we were alone in the world. It’s us versus the TV screen. That the other is our enemy, that he is our competitor. We grew up with the feeling that we are in living in a race we have no chance of winning, that we mustn’t rely on anyone else. They taught us that it’s either you or him. That’s capitalism – unending competition. The fact that this generation – the loneliest and withdrawn generation – stood up and did something is nothing short of a miracle. The miracle of the summer of 2011. There you have it – everything that we thought, all they taught us – was wrong! What happened here was exactly what needed to happen.
We were closed up each of us in his own cycle, a cycle of dissatisfaction, of a feeling of absurdity. And suddenly we began to talk, and more importantly: We began to listen.
So they called us the extreme left. They tried to define us. How on earth do they know who I am? How do they know who you are? Where do they get the chutzpah? The best answer to their assertions came not from me of from my friends, it came from the tent camps that sprang up in Hatikva neighborhood, in Jesse Cohen, in Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Shmona, Modiin, Rahat, Kalansawa, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bet Shean, Yerucham, and in tens of other places. All of us, the whole country, realized that there is no right or left – we are all servants/we all serve.
They told us – go to the periphery towns. What a terrible and condescending thing to say. What is that – “go to the periphery”? It’s something you say as if – there, there are no people. That there is a wasteland. Silence. And you know what? How lucky it is that they sent us to the periphery. Because we discovered there what we already knew – that this country is full of beating hearts. I went there and found friends for life.
And anyway – what is that – “go to the periphery”? The State of Israel screwed over and continues to screw over its periphery systematically and methodically from the moment it was established. In education, health, infrastructure, housing, welfare, culture – to say “go to the periphery” is unprecedented hypocrisy. To talk of ‘periphery’ is to perpetuate the old discourse that cuts out human beings, that tells them: You are put aside. You are remote. Your needs are less important and your demands are worth less. This summer we proved to everyone that there is no such thing as periphery – we are all central! Every single one of us! We reduced the physical distance between us and we found out that it’s good that way, that we want to remain close. That they will no longer manage to distance us and to divide us.
And then came the security escalation. But even the missiles that fell did not ruin this protest. The opposite – they showed how strong and true it is. The fact that we didn’t fold then was, I’ve already said this, the most moving aspect of this protest. The time has come for the concept “Security Situation” to stop being a value and return to being what it is – a situation. And a situation that must change.
Missiles fell, and we were silent for a few days. We marched in silence. And then what did they say? They said that the protest was fading out. Instead of recognizing that it pained us that a million Israelis were living under the threat of missiles, that we were hurting for the people injured, killed, and whose houses were ruined. But instead of appreciated that we were with them, instead of seeing how our silence came from love, they said “the protest is fading out”. They tried to turn our solidarity into retreat.
The truth is, it was sad. How on earth does the government of Israel dare to make such an attempt of divide and rule? A government that abandoned its residents; that abandoned its elderly, its sick, its immigrants, its weak. How can is now come to us with such an assertion? Israeli governments have divided us for years, and when finally we come together, when we showed that we are not willing to carry on sitting in front of the TV, they said that we are not showing solidarity. We don’t show solidarity? Look at what’s going on here!
When they talk about security they come to protect human lives – how does that line up with the Israeli government’s policy of recklessness?
I’m 25 years old. What are my biggest memories of this country: the 2nd Lebanon War, the period of terrorism, friends who were killed then, the assassination of Rabin, Gilad Shalit. And that’s even without going into that I’m 3rd generation Holocaust survivor. This was my consciousness. Moments and memories laced with death, loss, pain, fear, and the feeling that everything is temporary.
At the demonstration in Afula I saw a sign: “For 31 days I have been proud to be Israeli”. I stand before you and I am now proud to be an Israeli for 7 weeks. I feel we are together building here our self-worth as a society. To say “I deserve” means that someone else also deserves, that we deserve. This summer brought with it many good moments and memories – of hope, of change, fraternity, listening.
A discourse of life has been created. It’s the most important awakening there has been here. We are not here just to survive, we are here in order to live. We are not here just because we have nowhere else. We are here because we want to be here. We choose to be here, we choose to be in a good place, in a just society, we want to live in society as a society – not as a collection of lonely individuals who each sit in front of one box, the TV, and once every four years put a slip in another box – the polling box.
We are here, not because we have no other land. We are here because this is the land we want. Without our even noticing, people have begun to return from abroad, suddenly there’s a feeling that something’s happening here that mustn’t be missed.
My generation has failed. I'm not sure why we failed. Perhaps there just weren't enough of us who were like the kids in the streets in Israel this summer. Yes, we succeeded in changing public opinion about the Vietnam War, but back then there wasn't 24-hour cable news owned by organizations who saw their job as carrying water for entrenched political and corporate interests instead of reporting what was happening in the streets. I'm not sure that the protests of the late 1960's and early 1970's would have any influence today. After all, a half-million people marched in New York City in 2002 in opposition to the proposed war in Iraq and no one covered it. It wasn't perceived as being any kind of a movement opposed to the war.
We fought for reproductive self-determination for women, and now find today's reproductive-age women staring down the barrel of criminalization of miscarriage. Did we grow up? Give up? Just get tired of fighting the same battles over and over and over again? Did we get sidetracked by fringe causes and forget the Big Picture? Or did we just get beaten down by a system that gave us Ronald Reagan and his heirs, and an "opposition" party that gave lip service to opposition but then refused to frame a compelling opposing argument, so that today it mewls and cries and then refuses to take a stand?
Can movements make a difference? A movement of American middle-class kids ultimately could not, perhaps because despite the media coverage, there were more of us in plaid pants and Izod shirts attending Young Americans for Freedom meetings than antiwar groups all along. Or perhaps we were just too soft, coming from suburban homes with two cars and TVs and parent-paid college, to be in it for the long haul (though some of us have at least been trying for the last forty years).
Young people in Israel have grown up in a war zone. And as we approach the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which promise to give us tons of George Bush revisionism and a return to those halcyon days when Americans wanted war and fell behind what turned out to be a horrifically bloodthirsty regime in our own country, and people in flyover states once again worrying about Scary Swarthy Men bombing the local Denny's, I wonder if children who actually grew up where bombings take place very day are going to be able to handle the hard work of effecting change. We've heard a lot about this summer of protest in the Muslim states in the Middle East, but very little about the one in the nation that's supposed to be our ally.
The activists who took to the streets in Tel Aviv started out acting in their own self interest, in a protest over housing costs, But movements like this tend to take on a character of their own, and this one has demonstrated growing dissatisfaction with the insane, "doing the same thing and expecting a different result" actions of their government. The last sizable movement for change in this country could not, in the end, make what progress we made stick, and we have ended up with a sick, corrupt, dysfunctional country that is beyond repair. We can hope that the result in Israel is different.