FIRST OF all, a warning.
Tent cities are springing up all over Israel. A social protest movement is gathering momentum. At some point in the near future, it may endanger the right-wing government.
At that point, there will be a temptation -- perhaps an irresistible temptation -- to "warm up the borders." To start a nice little war. Call on the youth of Israel, the same young people now manning (and womanning) the tents, to go and defend the fatherland.
Nothing easier than that. A small provocation, a platoon crossing the border "to prevent the launching of a rocket," a fire fight, a salvo of rockets -- and lo and behold, a war. End of protest.
In September, just a few weeks from now, the Palestinians intend to apply to the UN for the recognition of the State of Palestine. Our politicians and generals are chanting in unison that this will cause a crisis -- Palestinians in the occupied territories may rise in protest against the occupation, violent demonstrations may ensue, the army will be compelled to shoot -- and lo and behold, a war. End of protest.
THREE WEEKS ago I was interviewed one morning by a Dutch journalist. At the end, she asked: "You are describing an awful situation. The extreme right-wing controls the Knesset and is enacting abominable anti-democratic laws. The people are indifferent and apathetic. There is no opposition to speak of. And yet you exude a spirit of optimism. How come?"
I answered that I have faith in the people of Israel. Contrary to appearances, we are a sane people. Some time, somewhere, a new movement will arise and change the situation. It may happen in a week, in a month, in a year. But it will come.
On that very same day, just a few hours later, a young woman called Daphne Liff, with an improbable man's hat perched on her flowing hair, said to herself: "Enough!"
She had been evicted by her landlady because she couldn't afford the rent. She set up a tent in Rothschild Boulevard, a long, tree-lined thoroughfare in the center of Tel Aviv. The news spread through Facebook, and within an hour, dozens of tents had sprung up. Within a week, there were some 400 tents, spread out in a double line more than a mile long.
Similar tent-cities sprang up in Jerusalem, Haifa and a dozen smaller towns. The next Saturday, tens of thousands joined protest marches in Tel Aviv and elsewhere. Last Saturday, they numbered more than 150,000.
This has now become the center of Israeli life. The Rothschild tent city has assumed a life of its own -- a cross between Tahrir Square and Woodstock, with a touch of Hyde Park corner thrown in for good measure. The mood is indescribably upbeat, masses of people come to visit and return home full of enthusiasm and hope. Everybody can feel that something momentous is happening.
Seeing the tents, I was reminded of the words of Balaam, who was sent by the king of Moab to curse the children of Israel in the desert (Numbers 24) and instead exclaimed: "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, Oh Israel!"
IT ALL started in a remote little town in Tunisia, when an unlicensed market vendor was arrested by a policewoman. It seems that in the ensuing altercation, the woman struck the man in the face, a terrible humiliation for a Tunisian man. He set himself on fire. What followed is history: the revolution in Tunisia, regime change in Egypt, uprisings all over the Middle East.
The Israeli government saw all this with growing concern -- but they didn't imagine that there might be an effect in Israel itself. Israeli society, with its ingrained contempt for Arabs, could hardly be expected to follow suit.
But follow suit it did. People in the street spoke with growing admiration of the Arab revolt. It showed that people acting together could dare to confront leaders far more fearsome than our bumbling Binyamin Netanyahu.
Some of the most popular posters on the tents were "Rothschild corner Tahrir" and, in a Hebrew rhyme, "Tahrir -- Not only in Cahir" -- Cahir being the Hebrew version of al-Cahira, the Arabic name for Cairo. And also: "Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu".
In Tahrir Square, the central slogan was "The People Want to Overthrow the Regime." In conscious emulation, the central slogan of the tent cities is "The People Want Social Justice."
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