Thanks to Sol Salbe for translating David Grossman‘s magnificent meditation on the meaning of the J14 movement. It is titled Window on a New Future (Hebrew) published in Yediot on August 5th:
Last Saturday night, at the Jerusalem demonstration, I looked around and saw a human tidal wave flowing in the streets. Thousands of people were there, people who for years have not spoken out, having lost all hope for a change. Instead they had cloistered themselves within their own troubles and despair.
It wasn’t easy for them to join the roar of the youngsters with the megaphones. Maybe it was the discomfiture of those who are not used to speaking out, and are afraid to scream out. They were even more reluctant to roar out in unison. At times I felt that we, the marchers, were looking at ourselves in astonishment and a tinge of doubt, not really totally believing in ourselves. We were not quite sure of what was emanating from within us: Are we really that kind of angry mob, waving their fists in the air, as we have seen in similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, Syria and Greece? Do we really want to be such a mob? Do we seriously mean it when we scream out to a drumbeat: “R-e-v-o-l-u-t-i-o-n!?!” What if the bolts that hold this fragile state snap open and crack? What if the protest and fervour is “too successful” and turn into anarchy?
But after we take a few steps something happens, and gets into our bloodstream: The pace, swing, and togetherness. Not the kind of threatening “togetherness” that wipes out individual identity, but a different kind of togetherness: a heterogeneous chaotic, familial medley. It is combined with strong sense of here and now, we are doing the right thing, finally doing the right thing.
And then there’s the shock: where were we until today? How did we let this come about? How did we acquiesce when the governments that we had elected turned our health, and our children’s education, into luxuries? How did it happen that we did not rush to the social workers’ aid when Treasury officials crushed them? And before them, how could we have acquiesced when the same treatment was meted out to the disabled, and Holocaust survivors, and the elderly and the pensioners? How did we forsake the hungry and poor over the years, abandoning them in soup kitchens, and in the care of charity organisations, setting them up for a lifetime of humiliation? How did we abandon foreign workers in the face of their hunters and persecutors, accepting the slave trade and trafficking in women? How do we put up with the ruthless march of privatisation thereby diminishing the value of everything we hold dear – solidarity, and responsibility, and mutual aid, and a sense of belonging to a single people?
We all know that there were many reasons for this indifference. But to me the deep schism over the issue of the Occupation is the most significant factor that devastated our society’s early warning and control systems. The flawed and unhealthy aspects of society were able to float to the surface. And we, perhaps because we feared facing the full reality of our lives, enthusiastically gave in, throwing ourselves into various opiates which dulled the sense of reality. Sometimes we looked at ourselves: some of us really liked a lot what he saw, while others disliked it and flinched. But even those who flinched, accepted it as the way things are, and called it “the situation” as if it was a matter of fate or a decree from heaven. In addition, we have let the commercial TV channels fill in most of the space in our collective consciousness, seeing ourselves in terms of struggles for survival and predation, pitting us against each other, and making us despise all those who are weaker than us, and different from us, and who are not “beautiful” or witty, or rich. And for many years now we have stopped talking to each other, and we have certainly stopped listening. It stands to reason that when the prevailing ambience is that of “grab what you can,” you cannot help but disparage the other and rob each other blind. For that is the way they demonstrate to us and remind us at every opportunity: it’s every person for themselves and their fate.
The more we exhausted ourselves through this non-stop squabbling, the more malleable we became so we could be bewildered, controlled, and manipulated, allowing ourselves to fall victims to an invisible but effective “divide and rule” syndrome. And so, discussion of important questions trickled down from capital to regime to media, steadily getting shallower. It made us bicker about “who loves the country” and who hates it; who is loyal to the country and who betrays it, who is a “good Jew” and who “forgot what it was like to be a Jew”. Every rational discussion was smothered in a melange of sentimental, patriotic, and nationalistic kitsch whipped up with self-righteousness and victimhood. Slowly but surely, the possibility of sober criticism of what has been happening here was stifled. Eventually, Israel found itself acting and behaving towards its own citizens in total contrast to the values and world-views that were once its essence and uniqueness.
But now, suddenly, and against all expectations, something has arisen; people are waking up. They are opening up to something, even though it is not quite clear what it is and where it is heading. There are no words to describe it accurately, or to understand it fully. But that thing is becoming clearer and it crystallises as we read the slogans: The clichés are breaking out of their casings and turning into a living, breathing emotion, “the people demand social justice”! “The people want Tsedek (justice) and not Tsedaka (charity)!” There are more such words and such slogans that are harking back to different eras. And every so often the air carries with it hints of a possible revitalisation and repair. That forgotten concept of self-respect, both on an individual basis, and for Israel as a whole, has returned.
That awakening has tremendous, albeit intoxicating and deceptive, power. It is tempting to get carried away by the euphoria and the youthful renewal that the new upheaval has created. It is easy to delude oneself that here we are again destroying the old world to the core. But that’s not quite right: the old world was not all bad. It also included some great achievements, which among other things, would actually enable us to bring some of the protest movement’s demands to fruition. The old world has also given us the freedom to express our demands. Therefore, this struggle has to speak a language different to those of previous struggles. Above all, it must be based on dialogue, which is inclusive rather than exclusive; which is principled, rather than one based on opportunism and sectoral interests. This is no time to be divided into our individual camps. That’s the only way the protest movement can hang on to the tremendous public support it currently enjoys.
It is the very ambiguity of this particular protest movement which allows each group to hold different political opinions and mutually contradictory beliefs, and yet recognise – for the first time in decades – a shared common civil and humanistic platform. It even provides a degree of pride in belonging to this community. Who in Israel can afford to give up such a rare resource as that?
This protest movement and its accompanying pressure waves provide an opportunity for communication between those who for decades have not communicated: between different, and disconnected, social strata; between the religious and secular, and between Arabs and Jews. This process of identifying what is common and attainable can open up dialogue between the Right and the Left, introducing a more realistic and empathetic discourse. For example, it can take up the Left’s indifference to those who were displaced from Gush Katif. This remains a festering wound for the settlers. Inclusive speech here may salvage whatever it is possible to save of the sense of mutual responsibility that a country in our situation can ill-afford to give up. In other words, if the spirit of the movement can indeed be found in the words of Amir Gilboa’s poem quoted everywhere, “Suddenly a man wakes up in the morning. He feels he is a nation and begins to walk”. Then we must continue with the next line: “And to all he meets on his way he calls out ‘Shalom!’”
It is easy to criticise the nascent movement, question its moves and doubt it. Indeed it’s always easier to find reasons why not to do something decisive and courageous. But whoever listens to the groan of the demonstrators, not only at Rothschild Boulevard, but also in Tel Aviv’s southern suburbs and the poorer neighbourhoods of Jerusalem and Ashdod and Haifa and Ma’alot-Tarshiha – would understand that maybe we have opened a window to a different future. The time is ripe for such a move, and surprisingly we also have, at last, the troops. Maybe that’s what the young woman meant who came up to me at a demonstration in Jerusalem and said: “Look, the leadership is still hollow, but the people are not.”
I hope and expect we can have a dialogue and debate in the comment thread about what is good or wanting in this essay.
I’m surprising that the Shabbak hasn’t removed Dafni Lif for disturbing the current social order.
The above is of course meant in jest, and is meant to mock the extreme paranoia echoed in this blog about the Shabakk and Israel’s “security apparatus”.
These peaceful, beautiful demonstrations show that Israel is a vibrant Democracy. The protesters are not a rare breed – they are the backbone of the Israeli society and show the best about our people – compassionate, Democratic and honest.
May we succeed in bringing change to Israel (but not the kind of change its haters desire).
Deïr Yassin says
“Israel is a vibrant democracy”
No, it’s not. It was ranked 37th on The Economist’s Democracy Index 2010, far after the five Nordic countries, Australia and New Zealand, but also after Chile, South Africa and Botswana. Israel is a “flawed democracy”, and if you look at the last listing, “civil liberties”, it has an index ranking it somewhere among ‘hybrid regimes’ and ‘authoritarian regimes’.
To quote Ahmad Tibi: “Democratic for Jews, but Jewish for Arabs”.
Your description of Israelis as “compassionate, democratic and honest” must be taken from page 1 in the “Global Language Dictionary” aka ‘The Hasbara Manual for External Use’. Israel is ranked after Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in the Corruption Index 2010.
And for the ‘compassionate’, I don’t know what to say: you leave me speechless. Maybe because I just visioned a footage from Cast Lead where Israelis made tourism on the southern border to see the ungoing slaughter ‘live’ all while picknicking.
I’ve lived here my entire life and am well traveled. I don’t need an index to tell me that Israel is a vibrant Democracy. I can say anything that I want, study anything that I want, do anything that I want and go everywhere I want.
Is it flawed? Absolutely! Do we have a lot more to fix around here? Yes! But that’s why I’m here. I love my people, I love my country and I will continue building it. I have no interest in hate or anger over others – I will help build a prosperous nation for the benefit of me and my kids. Israeli Arabs are welcome to join in the building of this country, and hopefully they will too consider Israel a home, after we overcome the difficulties.
The rest, about me being a “Hasbara drone”, just shove it! I’m proud of being an Israeli and will not apologize for it.
Ahmed Tibi is an intelligent man and it’s a damn shame that he uses his energies to spread poison and hate instead of trying to build his peoples communities.
Come to Israel. come to Rotschild. come to Beer-Sheva and Kiryat-Shmona. Meet and see the people. You fill that despite your twisted perception of Jews and Israelis being blood-thirsty, money-grabbing conspirators, that they are actually normal human beings.
Deïr Yassin says
“I can say everything I want ….go everywhere I want”
Yes, exactly, as Tibi said: “Democracy for the Jews, and Jewish for the Arabs”
“Come to Israel, …come to Beer-Sheva, come to blahblah”
I’ve been to Israel on various occasions, when I was still allowed to, I have family there, those who were not expelled, so don’t waste your propaganda on me.
Here’s a interview with Juliano Mer-Khamis (though the sound isn’t very good). He explains how his own mother, as a member of Palmach, participated in the Plan Daleth, i.e. the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and how her own sister told her proudly that she had participated in the massacre of more than 200 and the ethnic cleansing of more than 25.000 Palestinians in Beer-Sheva (Beersheba/Bir al-Sab’):
from min 1:15
“I’m a proud Israeli”. Sure, who wouldn’t be so in your place …
Sam Smith says
It’s ok to be proud of certain aspects of Israel – women’s rights and LGBT rights, for example – but also to recognize that you have a very partial, skewed view.
Rather than telling the Palestinian Israelis to “join in the building of this country”, make them want to join. Ask them how they truly feel and what they want; don’t impose your views of what they should think. Treat them as equals; don’t force them to deny their history, ethnicity, language, etc.
For starters, if they want to be called “Palestinian Israelis”, rather than “Israeli Arabs”, respect this wish.
Richard Silverstein says
Thank you, Sam. That was quite an englightened comment of which I’m proud since we often don’t agree on issues.
Richard Silverstein says
First, you clearly haven’t studied the diff. bet. the countries where you’ve traveled & Israel (unless you were only traveling in China, Laos, Cambodia, Iran & North Korea). Second, you clearly aren’t saying anything threatening to the regime. If you were to say the things that Yonatan Shapira says it would be a diff. story.
You actually can’t do anything you want. You can’t advocate boycott publicly w/o threat of a lawsuit. You can’t operate an NGO & accept funding fr. foreign govt’s w/o the threat of a Knesset bill smearing you as if you were an enemy of the people. You can’t go to Gaza. You can’t go to Lebanon or Syria either. You can’t meet with anyone who’s come anywhere near Hezbollah or Hamas. So you are a bit more constrained than you’re acknowledging. The fact is that you live a nice comfortable existence & don’t rock the political boat inside Israel, so you’re fine. Not so for Israelis who challenge the consensus & status quo (you clearly don’t). Their lives are far more complicated.
Interesting how deluded some people can be about themselves & the ideas they espouse. Palestinians find a good deal of what you write to be offensive, angry & hateful. So what you really mean is that you have no interest in hating anyone you like. ANyone you don’t like–well, that’s a diff. story now, isn’t it?
You are so ridiculoudly BLIND. Israeli Palestinians (again, the very people for whom you claim no hate or anger can’t even be called the name they have chosen for themselves by you) already consider Israel their home. It is the ignorance of Israelis like you of them & what they believe that prevents them from being considered fully Israeli by Israeli Jews. And they will consider Israel their home now, before you all overcome your “difficulties” (whatever that means–is it like “that time of month?”). So get used to it. They’re just as much Israeli as you.
That’s borderline my friend. Hold yrself better in check & watch the aggressive language.
Once again you’ve shown yr utter ignorance of 20% of yr fellow citizens. Azmi Bishara says Israel should be a state of ALL its citizens. It is this that you find hateful because he won’t acquiesce in yr vision of an “Israel for the Israelis (Jews, that is). So if that’s poison & hate, once again you’ve just labelled Bishara and I and all the other Israelis (including many Jews) as ‘haters of Israel,’ a charge I find repulsive. No, BIshara doesn’t hate Israel. He just hates the Israel that currently exists which is rotten, corrupt, abusive (to Jewish & Palestinian citizens), militaristic, & racist. He seeks to love an Israel that is tolerant, egalitarian, democratic, & non-racial. If you hate that, then you do hate Bishara & also what I see for Israel’s future. I should add that there are elements of hope in latter day Israel. The currents out of which sprang J14 would do well in that future Israel. That is Israel at its best. Unfortunately, that Israel has been debased & abandoned for far too many decades.
As for the rest, stop with the Israeli tourism pitch. It’s downright annoying. If you want to take out an ad touting Israel as a tourist destination I’ll quote you ad rates. Otherwise, knock it off.
Israelis are actually normal human beings living in abnormal circumstances which turn them into hardened cynical brutal human beings. Not all for sure. But the mass, yes.
I hope my comment here is within this blog’s rules.
Enjoy your normal compassionate compatriots:
and a million other videos if you just want to open your eyes, Izik.
@Izik, more like Vibrant Apartheid.
There is a great article that addressed precisely this recently, and it concluded with:
“Let us not mistake this display of a vibrant democracy for an actual vibrant democracy.”
Richard Silverstein says
Mockery won’t get you far. If the Shabak thought it could get away w. arresting her it certainly would. After all, they hauled Yonatan Shapira in for a little chat & warned him what he was doing may become illegal & that they’d be more than happy to arrest him once the Knesset makes whatever it was illegal. And Shapira is a nonentity compared to Leef.
But the Shabakniks are a somewhat clever lot. They understand that when 300+K come out for a demo that it’s a tad off-putting if you haul off the leader in the midst of that. Now if she were Israeli Palestinian they’d haul her away in a heartbeat. They’re also more clever, in that when something is popular, they attack subtly by leaking stuff or putting out disinformation that would tarnish reputations. That should be coming. They’re prob. investigating her & tapping her phones as we speak.
Blah, blah, blah. These peaceful beautiful demonstrations prove how desperate things have become in Israel since the country hasn’t seen anything like this since the days of Peace Now, if then. Also, as Grossman & others have written, there have been so many of these movements which have come & gone like seeds shifting on the wind, that few in Israel get their hopes up more than they can bear for them to be broken once again if this movement goes the way of the others.
Puh leeze stop the flag waving & chest thumping. It’s really gross. Even the organizers of the demos have purposely not allowed their movement to be exploited w. the nonsense you’re spouting. They want real change, not flag waving. So cut it out. As for “honest,” there are very few honest souls in Israel esp. in the military, political & corporate elites. “Compassionate?” Tell it to the Palestinians who know a diff. side of Israelis. “Democratic?” Again, this is a movement, not a government, not even a political party. The movement may be democratic, but it doesn’t run the country. So no, the governance of Israel still doesn’t pass the test to be called fully democratic, as I’ve often pointed out here.
This is like the Oracle at Delphi. What does this mean? Almost nothing. Change, yes. Radical change, that too. Change you would intensely dislike, probably that too. Now if changing Israel into a fully democratic state means “the kind of change its haters desire” then I’m afraid we’re on opposite sides on this one. But the problem is I don’t hate Israel. So I’m afraid you’ll have to recalibrate what it means to be a “hater” of Israel if you “hate” the kinds of changes many progressives who care about the country envision for Israel.
Bob Mann says
Thanks for posting the essay – is there some point in particular that you can point to as being particularly good or wanting to get a dialogue or debate going?
Incidentally, your Wikipedia link is to the wrong David Grossman.
I am pretty sure the author of this piece is not the same David Grossman who is the producer of Desperate Housewives.
Richard Silverstein says
Oops, bad Zemanta plugin! I had no idea it would make such a stupid mistake. Thanks for the correction.
I initially dismised the protests as being self-interest and bec. they did not address the occupation.
Since then I have heard Jeff Halper say that Palestinian Israelis are entering the demonstrations. That is a good thing.
And in this excellent article – http://972mag.com/tents14/
“J14 may challenge something deeper than the occupation” the author writes:
The social justice demonstrations have been accused of ignoring the key issue of the occupation. But their tremendous groundswell of solidarity and cooperation is slowly gnawing at something even more significant than that – the principle of separation, of which the occupation is just one exercise.
The separation system is so chaotic even its privileges are far from self evident: ultra-Orthodox and settlers are seen as the communities most benefiting from the status quo, but it is important to remember the actual socio-economic standing of both is rather weak, and many in both are not only beneficiaries, but also hostages – the ultra-Orthodox to sectorial parties, the settlers to the occupation.
And the occupation itself is just an instrument of separation: Its long term purpose is to acquire maximum land with a minimum of Palestinian on it, but for the past 40 years it mainly ensured half the population under the control of a certain government would have no recourse or representation with that government on any level.
And while the issue of the occupation remains to be engaged with directly in the #j14 movement, the very dynamic of the protests is already gnawing at the foundation on which the occupation rests – the separation axiom. Haggai Matar is a veteran anti-occupation activist, with a prison term for conscientious objection to serve in the IDF and countless West Bank protests under his belt. There are few people in Israel more committed to ending the occupation than him. And yet this is how he writes of yesterday’s rally:
‘Odeh Bisharat, the first Arab to address the mass rallies, greeted the enormous audience before him and reminded them that the struggle for social justice has always been the struggle of the Arab community, which has suffered from inequality, discrimination, state-level racism and house demolitions in Ramle, Lod, Jaffa and Al-Araqib. Not only was this met with ovation from a huge crowd of well over a hundred thousand people, but the masses actually chanted: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” And later, in a short clip of interviews from protest camps across the country, Jews and Arabs spoke, and a number of them, including even one religious Jew, repeatedly said that “it’s time for this state to be a state for all its citizens.” A state for all its citizens. As a broad, popular demand. Who would have believed it.’
It would be seriously far-fetched to assume the protesters are deliberately trying to pull down the entire meshwork of rifts and boundaries. But one of the many unexpected consequences of this movement – indeed, the movement itself is an avalanche of completely unexpected consequences – is that these boundaries are beginning to blur and to seem less relevant than what brings people together.
We have failed to end the occupation by confronting it head on, but the boundary-breaking, de-segregating movement could, conceivably, undermine it.
It’s still too soon to tell where the movement will eventually go, and “it can even bring Israel further to the right; it certainly won’t be the first time in history in which social unrest led to the rise of rightwing demagogue – but right now, it is creating a space for a new conversation. Limited as this space may be, it’s so much more than we had just a month ago.”
The slow erosion of separation lines means there are also possibilities opening up for new conversation about the Jewish-Palestinian divide – including the occupation.
Personally, I think it better to let the J14 demonstrations to develop as they do. Introduce the Palestinian question, and Israelis will react against them. If the demonstrators succeed, it will be good for Palestine. Let’s leave it at that.
The “Left must feel the pain of Gush Katif” thing is a bit ominous, as Grossman doesn’t suggest that the settlers need to feel the pain of anything. It’s easy to see a narrative where Jul14 becomes a narrative of reconciliation and unity among Jews, at the unspoken expense of Palestinians.
Richard Silverstein says
Yes, that was my biggest problem w. the essay. I think “feeling the pain” of Gush Katif is bulls(&t frankly. But if he means this in the sense of feeling sorry for settlers who were sold a bill of goods by their gov’t & promised land & benefits in return for living there, & then been sold out by their govt. well, I guess I can feel at least a twinge of sympathy for that. The problem is that 90% of these settlers weren’t naive, & settled there for ideological, rather than economic reasons. For the former, I have no tears.
Public mobilization motivated by social injustice is positive, and once underway no one can predict where and how far it will go. Be patient, after all, home sapiens is homo sapiens, no matter where the geographers draw lines.
I agree with you, but it is hard to be optimistic when Israel just approved 1600 settlement homes in Palestine land.
That’s exactly Bibi’s way of “solving” the housing problem -build 1600 houses in the settlements – what? that’s not good enough for you? That proves that you must be lefties who just want to overthrow me and not solve the housing problem…
He’ll try again and again (together with Ben Gvir and others) to besmirch the sincere motivation (and problems) of the demonstrators. Unfortunately the die-hard right will believe Bibi and will soon be shouting in unison “Bi-bi Bi-bi” in ecstasy and another Abrushmi may have to be stopped before it’s too late…
Richard Silverstein says
That’s one of the most depressing comments you’ve ever published here, Shmuel. When u are despairing I know things must be in desperate shape.
Leonid Levin says
I found this a beautiful piece by Grossman. The message of unity, solidarity, dialogue and mutual understanding is inspiring. He describes very well how economics and mass culture affects social cohesion and people’s lives. I don’t know if life used to be better in the old days, but one thing is clear to me: people are becoming increasingly alienated from each other, from their work, family, community and society at large. We need to go back to our neighbourhoods and take responsibility for the affairs of our communities and for the people who are being left behind. The economy should serve the man, and not the other way around.
Aharon Eviatar says
Grossman is fine until he threw in the nonsense of Gush Katif. These criminals first ripped off the Gazans and then ripped off the Israel tax payer with the astronomical compensation that they were paid. Indeed, the ideologues among were not in it for the money, but many of them were cynical exploiters. Grossman might have some sympathy for the people of Bil’in whose land was stolen or inside Israel for the people in Taibeh who wait eight years for a permit to build a house.
Aharon Eviatar says
Already the rumors of drugs, wild sex and Lord knows what else are being circulated about the tent cities by you know who. A new Avrushmi will appear soon. BTW here is an interview with the old Avrushmi
from which I will extract one quote: “People in the street want to kiss both my hands, the hand that pulled out the pin and the hand that threw the grenade. I go to synagogues all over the country, with friends and acquaintances, and I am greeted with admiration everywhere. Even Ashkenazis tell me, ‘congratulations, we admire you.’” I am waiting for the protest movement to say the magic words Occupation , Peace and where the money for their demands must be found.
No! Anything but wild sex! This protest is doomed!
Israeli protests continue to gain momentum
Some Arab Israelis have joined the chorus complaining about the country’s ‘corrosive social inequality’.
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2011
Demonstrations over the rising cost of living in Israel are showing no sign of running out of steam.
Tens of thousands of Israelis returned to the streets on Saturday to bolster a protest movement that is gaining increasing support across the country.
Its social justice message is finding support with some Arab Israelis, whose backing is crucial if the movement is to shake off its urban middle class tag.
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan reports from Be’er Sheva.
Source: Al Jazeera