Saturday, September 3, 2011

Israeli social protest leader tells 300,000 at TA rally: whether you're an evacuee from Gush Katif, or Bedouin, situation must change

Dafni Leef, who founded the "J14" social justice protest movement, spoke at length to 300,000 Israelis "about solidarity between all sectors in Israeli society, a new civic identity, and a political movement free of the right-vs-left discourse." Over 450,000 Israelis marched at protests for social justice held all over the country.

Whether you’re an evacuee from Gush Katif (in Gaza) or a Bedouin, she said, or a child whose parents can’t afford to send him on a school trip, the situation for you, too, must change.

Here is Dafni Leef's inspiring speech to the largest protest in Israel's history:

Speech given at mass rally in Tel Aviv’s Kikar HaMedina 3 September 2011
Daphni Leef was the person who initiated the J14 movement in Israel by pitching the first tent.

Hebrew original - Translated by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service, Melbourne, Australia

Something tremendous, something huge has happened during this summer. Summer 2011 has been the great summer of Israel's new hope. This hope was born, as many hopes are born out of a sense of despair, of alienation. It was born out of the disparities that none of us could handle; disparities that have become well-nigh insurmountable.

The Israeli society that is present here - and, it is important to say, that part of Israeli society that had chosen to stay at home tonight – has reached its red line. Then it rose up and said: Enough! No more! You can fool some people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time. This summer we woke up and refused to march towards the precipice with our eyes shut. This summer, we opened our eyes, and those eyes are not going to close again.

We have chosen to be. We are not invisible. If they can only understand numbers, then I would remind them today that there are more than seven million people, and every one of those people has a heart. There used to be a sign at Rothschild Boulevard [home of the original encampment-tr] that said: every heart is a revolutionary cell. It's true. Each of us forms a one person’s campaign headquarters.

We were confronted with a great obstacle course this summer. What hurdles didn’t they place in front of us. In what way didn’t they try to break us apart. The first thing they said about us was that we were spoiled kids who ate Sushi and smoked the hookahs. From that we learnt that our elected officials instinctively choose not to treat our actions with respect. Their first reaction was to say - it's nothing, nothing significant, just a bunch of kids. At that stage we only had the Rothschild encampment. They called us vague and dreamy. The resulting outcome: tent encampments were popping up all over the country. They had no choice but to figure it out that this is something bigger, something that belonged to all of us.

A miracle has happened here.

My generation grew up with the sense of being alone in the world. It's us facing the screen. The other is our enemy, which is our competitor. We grew up with the feeling that we live in a race which could not win; that we cannot lean upon on anyone else. We were taught that it was either you or the other. That’s capitalism – a competition that never ends. The fact that it is precisely this generation - the most solitary and withdrawn generation – that stood up and took action is nothing short of miraculous. The miracle of Summer 2011. Ergo, everything that we thought, everything that they taught us is not true! What happened here is precisely what needed to happen.

We were all closed in, each one in their own circle, the circle of dissatisfaction, of a sense of absurdity. And suddenly we started to talk, and more importantly, we started to listen.

So they told us that we were the extreme Left. They tried to pigeonhole us. How do they know who I am? How do they know who you people are? Where did they get the hutzpah to make those assertions anyway? The best answer to their contention did not come from me and my friends. It came from the encampments that were established in the Hatikva neighbourhood, Jesse Cohen, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Shmona, Modi’in, Rahat, Qalansawe, in Jerusalem, Haifa, Beit Shean and Yeruham and dozens of other places. All of us right throughout the country understood that there is no Left or Right, we all had to serve.

They told us go to the periphery. What a terrible and condescending statement. What exactly is "Go to the periphery"? This contention seems to suggest that there are no people there, only wilderness and silence. And you know what, how fortunate we were that they sent us to the periphery. We discovered there what we had already known - the whole country is full of pounding hearts. I went there and found new friends, for life.

And anyhow what exactly is "Go to the periphery"? The State of Israel has been banging up the periphery in a systematic and orderly fashion from the day it was founded till today. Look at Education, health, infrastructure, housing, welfare, culture saying "go to the periphery" is the height of hypocrisy. To speak of this periphery is to remain stuck in the old repulsive discourse. It’s the discourse that tells people that they are being shunted to the sidelines: you are a long way away, your needs are not as important, your demands are not as important. This summer we have proven to everyone that there is no such thing as the periphery – We are all at the centre! Every single one of us! We have reduced the physical distance between us and we found that it is a good thing, we want to stay close. They will fail to split us apart.

Then came the security escalation. But even the missiles that landed did not destroy this protest movement. On the contrary - they showed just how strong and how genuine is the movement. The fact that we did not fold over, and I have said that before, is the most exciting thing about this protest. The time has come for the term “security situation” to cease being an intrinsic value. It needs to revert what if is – a situation , and a situation that needs to be changed.

Missiles fell and we were quiet for a few days, we marched in silence. And then they spoke and said that the protest is fading out. Instead of recognising the fact that we empathised with the pain of a million Israelis living under the threat of missiles, that we felt the hurt of the people who were killed and wounded and whose homes were destroyed. But instead of understanding that we are with those Israelis, instead of seeing that silence comes from love, they said that "the protest is ebbing". They tried to turn our solidarity into a manifestation of folding down.

Frankly, it was sad. How does any Israeli government dare engage in such divide-and-rule games. This is the government has forsaken its residents - the elderly , the sick, the immigrants, the weak. How can it then come to us with such a claim? Israeli governments have divided us for years, and when we finally joined up together and indicated that we are no longer willing to just sit there and gaze at the television, they told us that we lack a sense of solidarity? We lack solidarity? Look at what is going on???

When one talks about security, one talks about securing the life of human beings - how does this square up with the Israeli government's policy of abandonment of its citizens?

I'm 25 years old and my most memorable memories are of this country: the Second Lebanon War, the terrorism of the Second Intifada, friends who were killed then, the Rabin assassination and Gilad Shalit. Not to mention that I belong to the third generation of the Holocaust. That is the state of my consciousness - moments and memories that are all intertwined with death, bereavement, pain, fear, the feeling that everything is temporary.

Proud to be Israeli

At the Afula rally [on 13 August] I saw someone holding a sign: "I have been proud to be an Israeli had 31 days". Well, I am standing in front of you here and I've been proud to have been Israeli for seven weeks. I feel that between us we're putting together our self-esteem as a society. To saythat I deserve something means that the other also deserves it as do all of us. This summer brought a lot of good moments and memories - of hope, of change, of fraternity, of listening.

A discourse of life has been created here. This is the most important awakening here. We are not here just to survive, we are here to live. We are not here just because we have no other place to go to. We're here because we want to be here. We choose to be here, we choose to be in a good, just society. We want to live in a society; we don’t want to be a collection of disjointed individuals each sitting in front of one box called a television, and every four years, place a piece of paper in another box, called the ballot box.

We are here, not because we have no other country. We're here because this is the country we want. Without any of us noticing it, people have began returning from abroad. Suddenly there as a feeling around that something is happening, something that nobody wants to miss.

We have created a new discourse here. This is what the new discourse is about: we have replaced pity with compassion. We’ve replaced charity with justice, handouts with welfare, and consumer with citizen. Instead of talking about waiting we talk about changing and instead of talking about being alone we talk about being together. It's the biggest thing we did here this summer. I don’t know what you think, my friends, but I think the process is irreversible. We will not go back! We are marching forward, towards a better future, a more just country. “Social justice.”

We are all trapped in some sense in terms of our social status, where we live, our religion, and gender. Then I realised it is not just that we're imprisoned, it is that they have locked us up. We all have an overdraft, but us having an overdraft is in the interest of the banks, it’s in the interest of the country's entire economic system. It’s in their interest to keep us in some form of distress. This because when there is distress there is no hope, and when there is no hope there is no prospect for change and when there is prospect for change there is nothing to live for. But this summer, day after day, week after week, we went out into the streets and made it clear, not only to the government, but also to ourselves, that there is something to live for! And once we understood that, once we started to think about tomorrow together, we were all set free!

Because things must change

What will happen tomorrow? Everyone asks what will happen tomorrow. What about the tents, what will happen with the protest movement? Where are we heading and what we are doing and what’s next and saw on. All this yearning for a fateful day, a victory picture, a decisive moment - there is no such thing, friends. Was there one fateful day in which the disparities in our society had become unbearable? Was there triumphant moment for swinish capitalism? Can we put our finger on a single privatisation that went too far? There was no such moment. It was a process. Even now, there is moment - there's a process. Our process is just starting now. We have demands to the government and its head that things must change.

If you are a resident of [the development town of] Yeruham - things must change.

If you are a child whose parents have no money for the annual school excursion - things must change.

If you are a pensioner or a Holocaust survivor - things have to change.

If you are a Gush Katif evacuee - things must change.

If you are a Bedouin - they must change.

Forty per cent of us are considered to be "financially fragile". That means that forty per cent of us cannot deal with an unexpected expense: a child dental care, a plumbing mishap, an injury. We all live on the edge, on the dot, enticed to take another loan, consume more, save less. Our life has become a war of economic survival, while the state has forsaken our pensions for stock market games, and has privatised more basic services.

Do you know which is the worst turn of phrase? It’s the little guy. There are laws against insulting a public servant, but there's no law against insulting the citizenry, and we have been insulted enough in recent years: they have pushed into poverty, played cat and mouth games with us and set us at each other. The ministers who are meant to discuss ameliorating the situation are y the very ministers responsible for, among other things, the worsening of our situation in the first place! I don’t know what you, but I do not like people laughing at me and I do not like those who fudge around while dealing with me.

We have established a different discourse

The citizen is not the little guy! The citizen is the big guy! To be a citizen, a big-guy citizen, and comprehend its significance is the biggest challenge facing us. This campaign’s demands are on the realisation that are no longer willing to be “little citizens” consumers, we are no longer willing to be just a target audience, only a sector, only a decile. We will no longer willing to ensconce ourselves in our little bunkers and fight our own individual battle of existence. That era is over. From now on there is something new. Now we're together. We are demanding a change and we are demanding to be part of that change.

We have established a different discourse, a discourse of hope, of sharing, of solidarity and responsibility. I want to ask the prime minister and all politicians: Look at what happened here, look at what is happening here, is that what you want to beat? Is it something you can beat? You have been chosen by the people. You ought to be listening to the people. This protest, it gave so much hope to so many people is this the hope that you want to break? Is this what you want - to dispel the hope? You'll never succeed!

And after we had cleared all these hurdles and their spin failed, what form of attack remained in their armoury? Attack me personally. This whole thing started with a person who took action. I put up my tent in Rothschild Boulevard with a personal feeling of being or ceasing to be. A man who was very dear to me, Alex, had killed himself. He was a poet, he wrote that even if you have a heart of gold, you cannot change the world. Two months before the whole thing started he could not take being be here any more, he chose to cease being.

We all have a place

How could it be such a dreamer, an idealist, felt that he had no more room in this world? If there is no room for him in this world, than probably there is none for me either. And my heart ached. My heart was broken. What kind of world is it with no room for dreamers, idealists and poets? What kind of world is forcing them out? It's a world of poverty. We all dream and we all have the right to dream. Being poor is not only not having enough money to complete the month or being homeless. To be poor is to be so fundamentally preoccupied with these things, that you do not have the ability to dream, think, learn or hug your children.

So I started this thing. But once I started it, it is no longer just mine. It's not just my story, this is the story of multitudes of people who rose up and started to walk, rose up and began to act. We all chose to be. We chose to be here. Here we are.

This summer we learnt that we all have a place, that tomorrow would be what we'll make it to be. We don’t need somebody else to determine who we are, we know very well who we are. And after this summer we know is permitted to dream. More than that, we realised that dreaming is a must! To dream is to be!

Seven weeks ago I was 25 years old young woman struggling alone to realise her own dreams - to make films. Last week they attacked me from every direction, and almost managed to take me go back to when felt alone. I do not know what you, but I just started my protest.

I'll be here while it is necessary. I want to show Alex that yes, you can change the world, anyone can. You just need to believe, stand up and do. The responsibility is on all of us, rise up and walk and walk and talk and never give up. By us all going to the street, we found the home!

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