By Lia Tarachansky, The Real News Network – 11 Aug 2011
Saturday saw the largest demonstration in Israel’s history in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other cities. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis poured onto the streets to demonstrate against the high housing prices and rising costs of commodities. Meanwhile Israel’s Palestinian citizens who make up 20% of the population join the movement that began on July 14th and became known as J14. The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky spoke to Dror K. Levy, a professor of Cultural Studies at Haifa University, Mary Copti, a central community leader in one of Israel’s mixed cities of Jaffa (Yafa), and Wafa Abu Shamis who began the Jaffa tent city against home demolitions and gentrification.
LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: Last Saturday, Israel witnessed the largest demonstration since its existence. Three hundred thousand people poured onto the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other cities. According to Activestills, this turnout per capita doubles that of Tahrir Square at the height of the Egyptian uprising. This is the third consecutive Saturday protest since the July 14 movement began against rising housing and commodity prices. Known in Israel as J14th, the nationwide protest began when students erected tents in the heart of Tel Aviv. Within days, they were joined by hundreds of tents and dozens of tent cities throughout the country.
We have to topple him [PM Netanyahu] from the Jewish National Fund, from the Israel Land Administration, and go out and fight, even physically, like the [Israeli] Black Panthers. There’s no other way.
Exactly. That’s right.
TARACHANSKY: Since then, every Saturday, the number of demonstrators on the streets doubled. In September, organizers are planning Israel’s first ever million-person march.
CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The nation demands social justice!
TARACHANSKY: Protesters are organizing under a banner called “The people demand social justice” [incompr.] Israel’s ethnocratic legal system. Many are questioning what that really means.
DROR K. LEVY, PROF. CULTURAL STUDIES, HAIFA UNIVERSITY (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The welfare state fell apart partially. A welfare state exists now only in the occupied territories, meaning there, issues of employment are taken care of, and even the public transportation is subsidized. So when we’re talking about a welfare state, we have to understand what that means. It means the responsibility of the country to its citizens. What happened here in a fascinating historic process A) beside globalization we’ve had what’s called a wealth revolution. Unlike other places, here there was such wealth before. And secondly, they diverted the welfare state only to one place.
TARACHANSKY: Housing discrimination does not begin on the other side of the Green Line. Inside Israel, not a single Arab town has been built since Israel was created more than 60 years ago. However, 600 Jewish municipalities were founded. There are also 700 community towns in Israel that have admission committees that tend to discriminate against Arabs based on social unsuitability.
During the elections [in Ramleh], a young man asked the mayor a question. Of course, he was an Arab man, so he asked: “Why should I vote for you when you support the occupation of the Golan Heights?” So the mayor answered, “I didn’t let him continue. I said, I came here to deal with your lack of water, sewage, roads. If the Arab minority wants to talk to me about politics, I’ll be the first to shoot you. I have experience in life. Every time I faced off with an Arab, he was left dead and I lived. So go fuck yourselves.” He said that in front of a mixed audience of Jews and Arabs. Until today, he is the mayor of Ramleh. Even though we are … I always want to go back to that topic of the popular struggle. It didn’t start now or on Rothschild Boulevard. We’ve been fighting for our houses for years, we’ve had tents up for years, but the Jewish public doesn’t see us. The city planning is the oppression. It suffocates us. The planning decides that houses that were there even before the city are no longer legal, and we end up dealing with many demolition orders in Ramleh, Lod, and other [mixed] places.
TARACHANSKY: Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. As such, it has dozens of laws that privilege Jewish citizens that make up two-thirds of the population. Israel doesn’t have a constitution, so equality is never enshrined in law. On the contrary, Israel has more than 30 laws that discriminate against non-Jews. For example, citizenship rights: any Jewish person anywhere in the world is allowed to claim Israeli citizenship while Palestinian refugees and their descendents are often prevented from even visiting. Land law: more than 93 percent of Israel’s land is state-owned. Much of it can only be sold to Jewish owners. Under the Jewish Agency Law, only Jewish and Zionist organizations are given quasi-governmental status, allowing them to intervene in the management of land, housing, and service provision. Investment: the government identifies national priority areas within which to allocate state resources. Most recent statistics show 553 Jewish but only four Arab towns are classified as national priority areas. Israel’s education laws explicitly focus on Jewish culture and loyalty to the Jewish people. And a recently passed law forbids Palestinians for mourning the loss of their homeland, when two-thirds of their population was made refugees and Israel was created. Another new law currently before Parliament aims to de-list Arabic as an official language. As a result, Israeli Palelstinians have been joining the movement to demand equality. Tent cities were created in Arab and mixed cities of Nazareth, Jaffa, Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Tayibe, and Majd al-Krum. Jaffa is a mixed Jewish-Palestinian town in the Tel Aviv municipality. Before the creation of the state, it was considered the cultural and economic center of Palestinian life. Mara Copti is a central Jaffa community leader. She teaches Arabic to Hebrew speakers. She also helped found the Jaffa democratic school.
MARA COPTI, FOUNDER, JAFFA DEMOCRATIC SCHOOL (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Now that the grandparents who were alive in 1948 died, their children who stayed in the same house have children of their own. These children wanted to remain, but they’re now being evicted. It’s not your house. They’re told regulation don’t allow the third generation to stay. A permit they don’t give. So you built another room anyway, because your son has to marry, and if you build, they’ll come and demolish it or they come and evict you. So now there are 500 families who either built another room, or they turned a balcony into a room, or they’re that third generation. It’s a policy that’s intended for years. We’re giving you a demolition order and demolishing your house. Then we give you a loan, you buy another house, repay the loan your entire life, and then you still don’t own that house–the state owns it, supposedly. Then, on the lands of the demolished homes, they cleaned them up, put up a tender on them, and the very rich bought them. And these rich live here now.
TARACHANSKY: Jaffa joined the national tent city movement in the very beginning. Wafa Abu Shamis is a community organizer and was one of the first to set up a tent.
WAFA ABU SHAMIS, JAFFA COMMUNITY AND TENT CITY ACTIVIST (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): All our money, where does it go? To wars. Why is everything so expensive? Because all the money goes to wars. If we don’t rise up in Jaffa, it will no longer be for Jaffans. It’ll be for someone else. And Acre is the same thing, and Haifa is the same. The people of Jaffa aren’t going anywhere. Even if they get demolition orders, or they get letters from the … whatever they’re doing, we’re not going anywhere. We’re staying in Jaffa. The Palestinians are staying in Jaffa.
COPTI: It’s a completely different struggle. The Arabs are fighting for their existence. They feel that they’ve been rejected, that he’s being removed from his land.
TARACHANSKY: The bureaucracy, the policies of Israel, all discriminate between Jews and non-Jews. So you think that will change?
SHAMIS: I feel with the help of God it’ll change. We’ll see.
TARACHANSKY: Many are speculating in Israel that the prime minister will attempt to squash the growing movement by starting a military assault on Gaza. Last week, Israeli airplanes bombed many targets in the Strip. On Tuesday night, an Israeli Army bulldozer damaged a communications cable and cut all phone and Internet networks to Gaza.
End of Transcript
RELATED Lia Tarachansky in a radio interview on the on-going mass civil protests in Israel on the 5 O’Clock Train — CHUO 89.1 FM, Ottawa, Canada on 19 Aug 2011 HERE.