Haifa -- 2011 has come to a close. To say that the year was eventful would certainly qualify for the understatement of the year. In North Africa and the Middle East alone, the so-called “winds of change” blew in and fanned the flames of grass-roots national revolutions. Peaked region-wide disgust with elitist policies and too many forms of oppression led to region-wide social upheaval. The totality of these events have been dubbed by the international media as the “Arab Spring”, in spite of the fact that even in Israel citizens of all walks of life took to the streets nationwide in unprecedented numbers in a remarkable challenge to the nation’s social and economic policies and practices, which they all agreed threatened the future of Israel.
Unprecedented and unpredicted radical events touched every single person in North Africa and the Middle East in some way in 2011, period. And the future of every single country in the region has now been called into question. Entrenched leaders and leadership still in place at the end of 2011 are faced with the choice of either conceding to their citizens’ calls for sweeping change (whatever that may mean in each particular country), or to become pre-occupied with further entrenchment and increased violent oppression. In 2012, “business as usual” is not even an option. As the saying goes: “The genie is out of the bottle...” And the genie is called “winds of change”. A critical review of regional events which shaped 2011, reveal a stark contrast between how the “winds of change” played out in the Arab world and how it played out in Israel/Palestine. More importantly however, looking back reveals what lies ahead for Israel.
The revolutions in neighboring states were accented with violence (too often extreme and enduring). In Israel our “revolution” was accented with music. While our national neighbors often fought with the police, Israelis “enjoyed” police-escorted, family-friendly, wheel-chair accessible protests: “revolution-lite”! Some media referred to it as “Israel’s summer of discontent”, with an emphasis being on the “tent”, the protest’s defining symbol. Protesters in neighboring states put their lives on the line and reaped radical change (albeit questionable at this stage). In Israel the middleclass-led protesters put their spare time on the line and reaped increased smoke, a few additional mirrors, new paint and some new packaging for the same old problematic policies and politicians. Whereas the majority of Arabs in many neighboring states were disgusted and fed up, In Israel, the majority of the protesters were disgusted and “unhappy”.
It’s understandable that Israel has not, is not – and no one really expects it to be – included in the row-call of nations radically altered by the apparently unstoppable chain of revolutions blowing across North Africa and the Middle East. Neighboring Arab states took advantage of the prevailing winds and created a storm that sparked an “Arab Spring which brought new birth. Events in Tunisia woke many Arabs up to the reality that a classic opportunity for radical change was at hand. In Israel, the “winds of change” were purposely deflected, filtered, and toned down by protest leadership to a cool summer breeze in order to increase protest participation and support. The unwritten mantra of Israel’s protests was “shake the trees, but don’t rock the boat!
The ideas, motivations and aims for joining the protests in Israel were as divergent and divided as the country, where everyone lives in a veritable encyclopedic array of separate, well-demarcated – and often fenced and well-guarded – religiously, ideologically, racially and/or economically distinct towns, villages, communities, neighborhoods and/or zones. And inside of each of these there is even further separation and stratification. The unspoken truth of the matter is that the only things that really connect all of Israel are the roads, the wars and the constant preparation for war. “Divide and conquer” is Israel’s most prevailing strategy both at home and abroad.
The protests in Israel in 2011, consisted of an untold number of distinctly separate groups and individuals who all agreed to come together peacefully to air their individual laundry lists of legitimate complaints against the government at the same time and same place. In light of all the aforementioned obstacles to any type of national unity, it was a good start! However, the effort was as applaudable as it was insufficient. Collective agreement on sweeping radical change was never an objective. National fiscal re-alignment was the rallying call.
The primary protest issue for the majority of Israel’s middle class is the redistribution of the country's wealth, not the restructuring of the nation’s infamous institutionalized racist social order. The masses of Israel’s historically oppressed peoples were absent from the protests; uninterested in and certainly not motivated by Israel’s supposedly newly enlightened middle class’ calls for social justice. Everyone knew the injustices cited were anything but new, and only became of national concern when the fallout began overwhelming the lives and lifestyles of Israel’s privileged. The poor, the destitute, the Palestinians and the supporters of their causes have been in the streets all along.
While entrenched and oppressive Arab Muslim leaders toppled like bowling pins, and all others were put on notice, Israel’s Euro-Jewish leadership dug in, tossed out a few smoke grenades (and readied more), and then with the classic confidence of self-absorbed, out-of-touch (pathological) leadership, began publically preparing for the continuation of its West Bank occupation and de-facto annexation policies; its Palestinian marginalization policies; its racist and discriminatory social stratification practices; its national economic strangulation policies and practices; and of course the nation’s next war. As the “winds of change” continue to blow and shape regional events, according to one Israeli reporter, something else is blowing and shaping events in Israel: “The evil spirit that is blowing from the corridors of the Knesset and government...” (By Shaul Arieli – Haaretz – 25.12.11).
Take a look at some recent headlines and quotes from the Israeli press and beyond:
The Arab Spring turned Netanyahu into the national fearmonger - In the last year, Middle Eastern leaders have been ousted and denounced, have been slaughtered or have engaged in slaughter. The response of Israel's premier has been to become more entrenched in his own views - and in passivity, as Tzipi Livni puts it. - By Yossi Verter – Haaretz - Published 16.12.11 - http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-en
Netanyahu, let our people come! - We must not rest until Ethiopian Israelis are all reunited with their loved ones from Gondar and Addis Ababa. By DOV LIPMAN – Jerusalem Post -- 12/20/2011
The painful, sharp question must be asked: Why has the Israeli government suddenly developed such a strong tie to Jewish law and decided to strand thousands of people in transit camps in Ethiopia? Does the humane tenet of family reunification not dictate the immediate rescue of the remaining Falasha Mura? ...Sadly, I have come to the unhappy conclusion that there is only one, very depressing answer. While it is completely false to say that “Zionism is racism,” there is no way to avoid the sad truth that many Zionists are racists. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/
'Gov’t must bring basic needs to Beduins' - Lindenstrauss report says Abu Basma council and ministries fail to provide adequate infrastructural, health, education. By SHARON UDASIN – Jerusalem Post -- 12/21/2011 - http://www.jpost.com/Sci-Tech/Article.as
Israel gearing for effective separation of East Jerusalem Palestinians - State whitewashing construction plans between Jerusalem, Ma'aleh Adumim. By Nir Hasson – Haaretz - Published 23.12.11 - http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/new
We've become accustomed to the injustices in Israel - Perhaps you haven't noticed, but your entire personality has changed, has become distorted, while you were becoming accustomed to things. By Yossi Sarid – Haaretz -- Published 23.12.11 - http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opi
Israel 'will launch significant Gaza offensive sooner or later'- Israel Defence Forces chief of staff speaks on third anniversary of start of a major three-week Gaza assault By Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem - guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 December 2011 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec
If you could see Israel naked If you could see Israel naked, you would see behind the payot and the prayerful posturing and disproportionate power of extremists who ... poison the name of Judaism and Jewish values. By Bradley Burston – Haaretz - Published 28.12.11 - http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opi
‘US, Israel discuss ‘triggers’ for Iran attack’ -Media reports suggest the Obama administration outlined red lines for determining when to strike militarily against Iran. By REBECCA ANNA STOIL JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT - 12/29/2011 - http://www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/
Exactly a year ago, at the end of 2010, I wrote an essay entitled The Future of Israel. It started appearing in the press at the start of January 2011, and eventually went on to become widely publish internationally. The purpose of the essay was to illuminate the true impediments which stand in the way of Israel solving its national problems and making and experiencing peace with itself and its neighboring states. As I pointed out in the opening paragraph of that essay: “Any conversation about the future of Israel should begin with a clear picture of what the present looks like.”
In the same essay I also pointed out that “The primary issue that needs to be put on the table when discussing Israel is not ‘the peace process’ (or, as I would now add, ‘economics’) but rather this: Why do so many Jewish Israelis cooperate with -- or turn a blind eye to -- how our government conducts its business? Peace and just relations with our neighbors will not precede peace and just relations within our borders...What about the promise Democracy is suppose to deliver on: freedom, justice, equal rights...? The future is bleak because the present is bleak. It seems wise that we would do something now, in the present, so we can guarantee the peaceful and prosperous future we all say we want.”
I personally do not know a single Israeli who believes peace with our neighbors or just relations within Israel are on the horizon or even on the way anytime soon. And for obvious reasons these issues are discussed often in Israel. War, occupation, assassinations, subversion, official arrogance, deception, institutionalized racism and corruption, ethnic cleansing, and perpetual disenfranchisement of its lower classes are what define Israel’s past, present and future official national agenda. Spectacular, bold, devastating and pre-emptive war is what defines our military. War in its perpetuity is what too many of Israel’s citizens have resigned themselves to. Capitulation, acquiescence and denial define the prevailing national mindset.
Looking back, it can certainly now be seen, given all the change needed here in Israel, that it was a mistake for Israelis to – as the words of one of my songs go: “... refer to the ‘winds of change’ sparked ‘spring’ as an exclusively Arab thing.” By doing so it took Israel out of the revolutionary picture. I can only wonder when – or if – my Jewish brothers and sisters will ever wake up and take a very close look at themselves, and what this country really is? And if they do wake up, will it be in time? Either way, one thing is certain: Israel cannot and will not continue much further as it is. The nation is on an unsustainable path. The core issues which lay at the heart of Israel’s problems are finally on the table. All we have to do now is to address them. Unfortunately, the majority of the privileged are un-willing to discuss the issues in a rational manner (capitulation), very few of anyone will even touch them (acquiescence), and too many will continue to ignore them (denial).
Very few people outside of the country truly understand how daily life plays out in Israel. There are so many faces and voices in Israel that go unseen, unheard, and unrecognized. Yet, there is a notable common denominator between Israel’s 99% regardless of race, religion or national origin: we all pay the price – one way or another – for the murderous and subversive actions of our government even though it is not representative of all of its citizens, and in fact exists only to serve the interest of Israel’s Euro-Jewish elite and their well-vetted partners.
A new and frank conversation about Israel has begun. This country is in need of immediate and radical change. And if we all want to have a viable, just and mutually prosperous future, then we must return to the streets, but this time with a new and common agenda, and a single voice. And let’s keep the music and the police with us. The road is made by walking and the process has already begun. Moreover, we are not alone! Community activists, protests, and change-facilitating networks are sprouting up all over the world like mushrooms after rain. “The protester” is having such a profound impact on world events and making enough headway that Time magazine honored us collectively as “The Person of the Year” for 2011.
The winds of change are still blowing, and spring 2012 is not far away. The future of Israel is in the balance and the people – the 99% -- have the power to write a new script. It’s happening all over the world. As I did at the end of my essay The Future of Israel, I again admonish my Israeli national family: “Either we walk through the double-hinged door that leads to change and fashion something of our own making, or change will soon burst through the door from the other side and then we will have to cope with whatever it imposes. Global realities -- Israel’s geopolitical reality in particular -- dictate that our impending date with change will not be put off for much longer.”
The pressure on both sides of the door is mounting exponentially. Soon, given the undeniable laws of physics, the proverbial “door” will have to move one way or the other. And it will! Every Israeli, where ever they may be, should ponder these words from Albert Einstein: “The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything.” Maybe spring 2012 will give birth to a new name: “Israeli Spring”.
C. Hazakyah Hardy-Dia, a Jewish Israeli with African-American roots, is founding director of Winds of Change Productions, a loose-knit team of diverse artists/activists who organize/promote concerts and other art-driven events, and produce original music videos for Youtube which focus on social justice issues. Born in Detroit and raised Catholic, he converted to Judaism in 1987, and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He lives and works in the Masada Street Artists Community in Haifa. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org – On Facebook: Hazakyah Hardy Dia – On Youtube: Hazakyah http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mE7s38_eT