Pitching a Tent With Israel's 'Less Equal'

Article Summary
Police harassment of Israeli social-justice demonstrators reminds Israeli author Edgar Keret about his father's experience of early Israel. Keret intends to attend the next demonstration, because "when the possibility of heading to the streets to protest is threatened, the right to demonstrate becomes an obligation."

My father, who passed away last spring, was a Revisionist. In the last months of his life, I had the privilege of speaking with him quite a bit about what he thought about the State of Israel when he arrived after World War II, and what he thought about it before his death.

Many of his stories were about the difficulties he faced as a Herut party man in Israel in the 50s and 60s — in those days, if you didn’t carry in your pocket a red Histadrut membership card, you were a second-class citizen. “The state,” my father told me, “was never equal. In our family, when it came to ideology, somehow we also made sure to pick the side that was a bit less equal.”

When I saw Daphne Leef and her friends waving tents in the air, yelling the familiar slogans and taking a hell of a beating, I couldn’t help but think of my father and of the tenants of the Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank.

If, let’s say, the same Daphne Leef had been a settler, there is no doubt that the State of Israel, along with our prime minister, would have made sure to demonstrate a bit more mercifulness and sensitivity, even if she had chosen to violate some law or another. Netanyahu would surely have offered her alternative housing in a nearby military zone (in the Kirya army base in Tel Aviv, for example), and this only after the High Court of Justice had ruled against her. But Leef isn’t a settler and therefore her fate is to get a beating.

Also read

The masters of the land once held red membership cards, but today our country has new masters. A quick look at the way the law is enforced against illegal construction in the territories as opposed to within the Green Line makes it clear that it’s much better to violate the law on the other side of the Green Line. And as an ultra-Orthodox, it will be much easier for you to meet the criteria of Housing Minister Ariel Atias for affordable housing.

But the masters of the earth are also sometimes allowed to get angry. So if you do decide to break the law and damage property, like rightist activists did in the Jewish-Arab community of Neve Shalom, better to deface cars by writing “regards from Ulpana” rather than “the people demand social justice.”

Let’s be clear: I find destroying bank windows to be deplorable. But it is slightly less condemnable than beating migrant workers, throwing rocks at the commander of the Ephraim Brigade (a “price-tag” incident of December 2011) or building on land that legally belongs to someone else. But it is still an offense that warrants punishment.

Except that this moral rebellion cannot be entirely disconnected from the general violence swelling all around us, not only in the dark corners of Israeli democracy but also in its parliament.

When an entire leadership tries to create laws to circumvent the High Court of Justice, and to find all sorts of different and strange means to legalize what is objectionable, and when members of the government and the Knesset call migrant workers a “cancer” and make dark statements against gays and lesbians, it creates a general atmosphere in which one doesn’t always know how to distinguish what is permissible from what is not.

The offenders who broke the windows must be punished. Exactly like the police officers starring in the Youtube clips, who are seen beating demonstrators without provocation, and the many other offenders who the State of Israel, model 2012, dismisses on a daily basis.

I intend to come to the next demonstration. When the possibility of heading to the streets to protest is threatened, the right to demonstrate becomes an obligation. I read in the paper that the police is considering equipping itself with electric shockers ahead of the next one. It won’t be pleasant, but that’s what happens when you decide to demonstrate with the less equal side.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:

  • The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
  • Archived articles
  • Exclusive events
  • The Week in Review
  • Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly
Found in: violence, social protest, police, democracy, keret, israel
Next for you

The website uses cookies and similar technologies to track browsing behavior for adapting the website to the user, for delivering our services, for market research, and for advertising. Detailed information, including the right to withdraw consent, can be found in our Privacy Policy. To view our Privacy Policy in full, click here. By using our site, you agree to these terms.