When I first heard about the tent protest movements in Israel, I immediately praised the Israelis for finally awakening and imitating their Arab neighbors in protesting against their corrupted, selfish, and extremist leadership. However, I rapidly bemoaned the fact that the occupation was not at the heart of the protesters’ discourse. Israelis cannot decently claim social justice while maintaining the Palestinian plight as a non-issue.
At first glance, I assumed that the movement would eventually raise the issue of the occupation, especially because the protesters are imitating their Arab neighbors, traditionally considered as their enemies. But, it has been quite the opposite: The social movement harms the Palestinian cause by raising capitalism and internal socioeconomic issues as top priorities.
Knowing the Israeli mindset, there is no denying that the movement would never have gained that much momentum if it had addressed the occupation from the beginning. Walking on Rothschild Street and talking to a few Israelis, it appears that the occupation will never be raised by the social movement.
Voices claiming equality between Jews and Arabs are clearly being heard among the protesters. The famous “Tent 1948” and slogans such as, “if already social justice, so be it for everyone” can be heard, emphasizing the necessity to include Arabs into the social movement.
However, as has been the case since the Second Intifada, the calls from Israeli Jews to put an end to the occupation are coming from a dwindling minority. For Sara Becher, a young business graduate who says she will sleep in the tents until there is something better for her, “Israel has always had many conflicts within itself and these protests are the one occasion that we have to be united.”
The social movement aims at overcoming the right-left divide, which in Israel can be summed up by whether one is pro or against settlements. There is no need to underline how divisive the Palestinian issue is among the Israeli society.
This movement therefore reveals an individualistic, even hedonistic, trend characteristic of Western societies, where people protest against the rising cost of living and everyday life difficulties. What is specific to Israel is that the mainstream Israelis do not feel concerned by the injustices committed by their government against the Palestinians.
The current protests actually relegate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the bottom of the social and political agenda. Becher stated it very clearly: “For once, we want to leave the conflict alone, because focusing on it has taken us nowhere in 65 years, so now we want to worry about our own problems."
My enthusiasm about these protests, when I was following the news from Lebanon, vanished almost immediately after I arrived in Israel. The fact that the Israelis are rising up simultaneously with the Arab spring should not mislead us. This movement has nothing to do with the Palestinians and does not follow the footsteps of the overall protest movements in the Arab world.
On the contrary, it reveals the extent to which Israelis have gotten used to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tired of even raising the issue in the public debate. They have reached the point where they are capable of protesting massively, claiming social justice and imitating the slogans of their Arab neighbors, while ignoring the main cause of the shortcomings of their democracy and socioeconomic system: the occupation.
Photo Credit: Cynthia Ohayon