WATCH: Tel Aviv police pepper-spray democracy protesters

Posted: November 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

I only got to the last part of the Tel Aviv demo against the anti-democratic legislation led by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. Most of the several thousand protesters were on their way home; a couple of hundreds had gathered on Rothschild Boulevard, and another 200 were demonstrating in the nearby King George Street, just under the Likud party headquarters, before proceeding to block the street for a few hours.

Earlier, I read a few Twitter messages about tear gas being used by the police. This sounded strange – Israeli security forces never use it in Jewish neighborhoods. On King George, the mystery was solved – it was pepper spray, the current world-wide celebrity of the crowd control department. An activist I knew was still red-eyed when I met him – he said the police had lost control for a minute, and sprayed the protesters for no reason at all.

You can see it happen clearly in the video:



Between euphoria and anarchy: Tel Aviv’s revolutionary festival

Posted: August 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

A midnight walk through the Rothschild Boulevard protest camp

Tel Aviv – On the corner of Allenby Street and Rothschild Boulevard, a Jewish supremacists’ group is conducting fierce arguments with several bystanders. I am spotting former Kahane men, Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben Gvir, accompanied by “hilltop youth,” the radical settler teens, notorious for harassing Palestinians, who are now standing across the street from the busy pubs and food places, a bit bewildered, wearing tee-shirts saying “Tel Aviv is for Jews.” Rumors are that a couple of their tents were burned by leftists. While the older kids argue, the younger ones are standing in the back, staring at the night traffic at one of the city’s busiest junctions.

It is almost midnight. This part of the city is always packed on weekends, but right now it’s so crowded it’s practically impossible to walk. Around 400 tents are scattered along the boulevard. Hundreds of young Israelis are lying between them on mattresses and old furniture, drinking, smoking, playing music, talking with “tourists”—the unofficial name for the visitors to Israel’s first and largest social protest camp site—and mostly arguing about politics.

A hundred yards up, the boulevard is blocked by a large white structure made of plastic bars and fabric. A sign on it declares “revolution of love.” Inside a DJ playing loud trance music. Several dozen people are dancing around. Further up, the Divorced Fathers’ party is beginning their routine march. A short, emotional speaker calls into a megaphone: “I want to see my daughter. I want to take her to Rothschild Boulevard. She is calling to me “Daddy!’” as he screams the last word, the crown answers “Daddy!”

On the corner of Nahmani Street, I meet Yuval Ben Ami, Daniela Cheslow and a girl I don’t know, sitting on a bench.  Yuval is holding an acoustic guitar. He says he has never seen anything like it, admits that the atmosphere is too intense for him to even write about right now. He invites me to sit with them, but I prefer to continue. As I say my goodbyes, an elderly woman, dressed in black, approaches Yuval and asks him to play a song by Bob Dylan.

This is no longer about housing. The papers are discussing economical figures and social plans, but something very different is taking place on Rothschild Boulevard. It seems that everyone who has something to say came here, put up a tent and started shouting. The euphoria of the first few days of the struggle is still present, but the tension is rapidly building. People still play music and discuss politics, but many fear violence. I am told that the original group that started the protest doesn’t sleep in this tent camp anymore, after receiving threats to their lives.

Yet the camp seems to grow by the day. There are tents everywhere, and in between them stands and people handing leaflets in the middle of the night. There are tents for animals rights, for drafting the ultra-orthodox to the IDF (would you like to sign the petition?), tents built by the Communist party, tents for settling the north of Israel with Jews, a joint Jewish-Arab camp named “Tent 1948,” a tent of social workers dealing with disadvantaged youth (their services have been privatized, and they demand the state give them a formal contract), tents representing art students, a new-age circle of tents with the inevitable girl explaining about the power of inner peace to heal society, a small camp populated by physiology interns, and more, much more. In between, dozens of signs: “Bibi has sold us out”; “The market is free. Are you?”; “Tahrir, corner of Rothschild”; “we are non-political”; “Lock your doors, billionaires.”

What does it all mean? With every day that I visit this place, it seems less calling for political analysis and more for a novelist, or a Gonzo-style journo.

All around the country, the social protest goes on. Just today, there have been more demonstrations in Tel Aviv than in an average month. A parents’ march for free pre-school education; cab drivers blocked a major road in protest of the rising petrol prices; farmers protested against lowering the tariffs on dairy products; several thousands union people had a rally in front of their headquarter. There is a tent camp in almost every city; some of them are yet to be discovered by the media, like the Ethiopian Jews’ tent camp, half an hour from Tel Aviv. Someone visited them and tweeted: “They ask for water tanks, signs and a singer with a guitar.”

Some of these protest echo things we have seen before, and the main novelty is that they come all at once. But in some places, and most of all on Rothschild Boulevard, something else is going on. Over here, the political festival is getting wilder every evening. A couple of nights ago, Channel 2′s live panel from the Boulevard was heckled so badly, they had to cut the broadcast after half an hour. They will not be broadcasting from here anymore. Yesterday, Army Radio, which has been here for a week or so, was chased away. No policemen are in sight. Freedom is exciting, and scary.

“The donation box has been stolen!” someone is shouting over loud speakers. A small gathering of young students is discussing Saturday’s planned rally, while next to them a dozen hipsters are playing old songs on a laptop and dancing between two tents. Temperature is over 80 degrees Farenheit, and it’s incredibly humid. August is always a wild month in the city.

A couple of old men with long gray hair are sitting on a bench, smoking and smiling. There is a large Indian tent on the corner of Sheinkin Street. Next to it, a group of Breslov Hasidim are singing Hanukah songs to a tribal rhythm, and a large crowd joins them. On the other side, the divorced fathers are making their return tour; and right at the junction itself, on the road, a homeless junkie has turned a large garbage bin upside down and is looking through the trash for cigarettes while the cars honk as they maneuver around him. “I want to take my daughter to Rothschild Boulevard,” calls the leader of the divorced fathers’ march. “I want to show her how to build a tent. ‘Daddy!!!

The homeless guy lifts an empty water bottle in the air. “Daddy!” he answers.


Gil Scott-Heron boycotts Tel Aviv, sends powerful message to Israelis

Posted: April 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , | 33 Comments »

This is a translation of my article regarding the cancellation of spoken words artist Gil-Scott Heron‘s gig in Tel Aviv. His show was scheduled for late May, but it was later removed from Scot-Heron’s site and though there was no official statement yet, it seems to have been canceled for political reasons.

The original Hebrew version of the article was posted Wednesday on the web magazine The Other.

scott heron

A small commotion erupted this week among the public that appreciates black music in Israel upon learning that ground-breaking artist, poet and musician, Gil Scott-Heron apparently canceled his Tel Aviv show for political reasons. There was no official statement; However, following protests of some of his pro-Palestinian fans during a show in London on the weekend, Scott-Heron announced from the stage that he would not be coming to Israel. The show, planed for May 25, was removed from the line up on his site.

Scott-Heron is a political man. He came out against US presidents, preached against nuclear energy, and asked the new generation of Hip-Hop artists to write meaningful lyrics rather than merely attach words to music. His most famous piece, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, is considered the anthem of alternative culture. I assume these and similar reasons made Scott-Heron appeal to a couple of hundred Israelis. The only surprise is their ability to make a U-turn the moment that protest was directed at us.

In the last few days, Israelis who awaited the show in Tel Aviv filled Scott Heron’s website and Facebook pages dedicated to the issue with angry comments. The arguments were of the type common to such occurrences: one shouldn’t mix music and politics (“music brings people together; politics pulls them apart”); one must distinguish between the government of Israel and the citizens; it is hypocrisy and double standards to boycott Israel when there are so many more horrible governments and deadlier regimes in the world.

But beyond the usual arguments, an offended tone sneaked in: “Why should we, music lovers, who love GSH also because of the place we live in, should be blamed for the occupation or apartheid?” writes one Israeli on Facebook, and added elsewhere, “to cancel the show, it is to spit in the face of the leftists in the crowd.”

“In Israel there is a true music scene,” comments another Israeli on Scott Heron’s site. “For me, music represents peace and love, not war and hate. If you come to Israel you will see it with your own eyes”. Avi Pitshon wrote in Haaretz in relation to a similar incident, in which a few Israelis joined a call to the Pixies and Metallica to skip playing in Israel, “the radical left cannot hurt the powerful, those who shape policy, and is therefore trying to hit whoever is under the spotlight: music loving citizens.”

It seems that what hurts Pitshon and the other Israelis most is not the anti-Israeli stance of Scott Heron and others like him, but the choice to specifically boycott them, the public who is for peace, loves Soul and Hip-Hop, and sees itself more in touch with Detroit and Chicago than the Tomb of Rachel and Elkana. After all, the voice of these embittered music lovers didn’t rise when a pretty effective boycott was organized in the EU against produce from the settlements: the settlers are the bad guys in this story. But to boycott us, us who took part in three Peace Now demonstrations and two events commemorating Rabin? What is the world coming to?

The Israeli left (and yours truly included) is deeply longing to be part of some global communion. People here imagine themselves through American culture, Italian cuisine and French novels, as if we were born to a bourgeois family on Paris’ Left Bank and our life project is to confront the feelings of alienation inherent in human existence. Tel Aviv and its suburbs are arranged with their face towards the West and a wall separating their back from all the turmoil in the East: the settlers in the territories, the Ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem, and also these Palestinians. The occupation is such a boring and tedious story, the making of a stupid government and wicked right-wingers. Clearly, we are not part of this madness.

A worldview so detached leads to many disappointments. So we are shocked to discover that the Palestinians hate us just as much as the hate the right-wingers, we are insulted when the reception clerk in a Spanish hotel lets a curse out behind our back, and cannot understand why an old rapper, who has seen a few things in his life, would tell us that, on second thought, Tel Aviv doesn’t suit him right now. What the hell? We blow a fuse. What’s the connection between the Barbie Club and the territories? After all, they are at least a 20 minutes car ride away!

To the credit of the Israeli Right one should say that it is much more consistent and well argued. From the Right’s perspective, these conflicts with the world are the price for our clinging to parts of our historical homeland and our survival in a hostile region. The Right doesn’t try to evade taking responsibility for sitting on top of Palestinians, and if someone, whether Obama or Scott Heron, doesn’t like it, there is no choice but to bite the bullet.

In contrast, “the enlightened camp” is busy with the endless theatrical performance of their moral difficulties, whose real purpose is to create a barrier between them and all those action for which they refuse to take responsibility. Thus, when the order arrives, the leftist climbs into the tank without a second thought, but later he will do an anguished film about it for the Cannes festival. Thus the obsessive persecution of settlers. Thus Tel Aviv behaves as if it were a Mediterranean suburb of London while in a spitting distance from it eastward and southward lies an immense jail holding millions of people without rights for over half a century.

The self-pity tops itself with the absurd claim that such cancellations will benefit the occupation, because they would discourage those most in favor of two states solution. As if the role the world is to caress Tel Aviv’s residents’ back until they draw the courage and convince the right, to please stop building villas on the hills of Samaria and abstain from kicking Palestinians out of their houses in East Jerusalem. Beyond the fact that this method has been completely discredited by history–the Israeli Left doesn’t even convince itself anymore–the theory doesn’t hold water: excited or depressed, these thousands of peace and love and music lovers do not show up in Bil’in or Sheikh Jarrah, whereas the few dozens of human rights activists who do go there are begging the world for a little international pressure to save Israel from itself.

A few years ago, the dynamics surrounding Roger Waters (ex Pink Floyd) visit’s to Israel recalls somewhat the current case. Waters didn’t boycott, but he said a few words about peace and ending the occupation. Immediately, a few of the “enlightened camp” ordered him to focus on the guitar and stop lecturing us. There is something really bizarre with our ability to sing about another brick in the wall while forgetting about the miserable Farmers whose fields are behind our wall. (As it is hard to understand Israelis who return from Berlin with “an original stone from the wall” when the improved local version stands for free in our living room.) Considering the deep disconnect between the Israelis and the protest anthems that they are humming, it seems that Scott-Heron did us a favor by reminding us that in a place where pregnant women give birth at checkpoints and people are locked in their houses, even music doesn’t cross borders.


The frontline of Palestinian protest: a Friday visit to Naalin and Nabi Salih

Posted: April 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right, The Settlements, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Friday was full of events for Israeli lefties: the usual afternoon demonstration took place in Sheikh Jerrah, the NIF held a gathering in south Tel Aviv which happened to take place on the same day another smearing article against them appeared on Maariv; and I joined activist/blogger Joseph Dana on the weekly protest in the Palestinian villages of Naalin and Nabi Salih.

joseph1

Naalin, West Bank – The first thing that strikes you in Naalin is how small the protest is. Listening to the Israeli media describing the demonstration against the security barrier, one imagines thousands of Palestinians, accompanied by violent leftwing and international activists, marching on the nearby settlements and from there to Tel Aviv. In reality, there are several dozens of young Palestinians and a handful of activists who desperately try to keep the fight to get their village’s lands back alive.

The story in Naalin is very simple: the village was one of the victims of Israel’s decision to construct its security barrier well inside the West Bank, on Palestinian land and around most big settlements. A fence – and later on, a wall – was built a few hundreds meters from the houses of Naalin, separating the village’s poor farmers from about a quarter of their land.

The peak of the protest was during the work on the fence, around 2008. The army’s responds was brutal: 5 protesters, including an 11 years old kid, were killed, many more injured. Most Palestinian activists were arrested and are kept under Administrative Detention. Israelis who tries to help the villagers are constantly harassed and arrested as well, international activists are deported.

In the early afternoon, a few dozens Palestinians, men and boys, walk with flags walk to the wall at the edge of the village. They start shouting in Arab, Hebrew and English “this wall will fall”. Behind the wall is the security fence itself. The protesters try to plant a flag on the wall and some throw stones on the fence. The soldiers on the other side of the fence respond immediately with tear gas. The protesters move back, than some throw stones, the soldier respond with more gas, the protesters move back, and this goes on for a couple of hours.

The handful of Israelis and international activists are not throwing stones nor shouting. Most of them just stand quietly; some take pictures and videos of the events. The assumption is that their presence helps tame the soldiers and brings comfort and moral support to the village’s people. The soldiers keep shooting tear gas, four or five grenades at a time. From time to time the wind carries the gas in our direction. At one point, my eyes and mouth burn real bad, but the effect lasts just for for a few minutes.

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Dancing with Tears in Our Eyes

Posted: December 8th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: culture | Tags: , , , | Comments Off
Dancing with Tears in Our Eyes (book cover)

Dancing with Tears in Our Eyes (book cover)

Today came out “Dancing with Tears in Our Eyes: History of club and Discotheque Culture in Israel” (לרקוד עם דמעות בעיניים: ההיסטוריה של תרבות המועדונים והדיסקוטקים בישראל), a new book by Nissan Shor, a journalist and a music critic. The book does not only tell the story of clubs and music genres, but also puts it in political and historical perspective in a way that was never done before in Israel.

Shor recognizes the constant tension in Israel – dating to the days before the state was born – between the mainstream ideology and different sub-cultures who fight to built and maintain autonomous enclaves (most of the time without much success). He shows how, even as late as in the 80′s and 90′s, music and entertainment were considered “respectable” only when they didn’t put the mainstream Zionist values at risk. He quotes Knesset debates and newspapers articles concerning the dangers of “the misbehaved youth”, and tells the story behind some of Tel Aviv’s most famous establishments and nightlife figures.

It’s one of the most fascinating Israeli history books I read lately, but on top of all, it remains a book about the love of music and life.


The Election is Over, Let the Election Begin

Posted: November 13th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: elections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The municipal elections are over, and there were a few interesting results, including surprising losses for some of Israel’s longest serving mayors: Yaakov Turner in Beer Sheva, Meir Nitzan in Rishon Le’tzion, and Zvi Zilker in Ashdod.

In Jerusalem, secular businessman Nir Barkat got the upper hand in his battle against Orthodox MK Menachem Porush. This doesn’t mean that Jerusalem is getting more secular. Porush lost because he failed to win the support of some important orthodox groups, most notably the Hasidics of Gur.

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The Communists are Coming!

Posted: November 10th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: elections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Three things to watch in the municipal election this Tuesday:

1. Tel Aviv: Mayor Ron Huldai is running for a third term after 10 years in office, backed by both Kadima and Labor parties. On the previous election Huldai won in a landslide without really campaigning, but public opinion of him has changed in the last two years. Huldai has failed to address the problem of raising rent and further worsened the situation for himsels by declaring that this was a normal result of the free market. Tel Aviv during his time in office became so attractive, he claimed, that everyone wanted to live in it. Huldai, a former pilot for the Air Force, who became a national figure as the successful principal of one of the city’s most prestigious high schools, has also made some unpopular decisions, such as taking down the legendary Osishkin basketball arena, home of Hapoel Tel Aviv, the second most popular team in the city.
His surprising challenger is MK Dov Khenin of Hadash, the radical left wing party. Khenin has built an Obama-like coalition of representatives from the poor neighborhoods in the south of the city, and the young students, journalists and bohemian crowd from the city center. Khenin is the grandson of an important Chabad rabbi, and was the former chairman of the “Environment and Life” organization, which amalgamates most of the environmental organizations in Israel.
The polls gave Huldai a 20 plus points advantage just a month ago, but the race has tightened since and the margin is considered to be in the high single digit area. Still, even the slight chance that a communist like Khenin will lead Israel’s cultural and financial capital is surprising, to say the least, considering the current political atmosphere.
My prediction: Huldai, by a margin of 15 points or more.

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