A prominent member of the Israeli Black Panthers movement, who staged similar protests in the 1970’s, joined the crowds.
Forty years have passed since we rose up to protest against the lack of justice. Since then, year after year, I’ve been waiting for the next generation to rise up, says a leader of the Black Panthers and a former MP. “And now, 40 years later, my vision is being realized!”
It was 1971. Eight youngsters from one of Jerusalem’s poorest neighborhoods banded together and changed the course of Israeli history. They were immigrants from North Africa and Arab countries, and they took their name from the African American Black Panthers in their call for social justice.
The Panthers came with the rage, with anger, really with their back to the wall, Thanks to them, social issues such as education and housing benefits for the poor were put on public agenda for the first time. Radical and sometimes violent, they clashed with the establishment.
“One of my proudest moments was when [then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir] said that we were not nice boys,” founder and leader of Black Panthers Israel, Kochavi Shemesh, has said. “It showed that we were powerful and had achieved something. It showed us we were on the right path.”
And it was a path that for nearly two months this year inspired hundreds of thousands of Israelis to take to the streets again.
They gave us a legacy saying that if you really believe in something and you think you are right and you don’t use violence per se, you can get whatever you are fighting for.
And although the tents are slowly coming down, Prime Minister Netanyahu still has a lot to answer for. In three weeks, the committee he set up needs to address how to fix the country’s mounting social problems.
“Not only have we not progressed, but the country has become an enemy of its people,” Charlie Biton continues. “Everywhere citizens are harassed. There are more police, and now it’s not only the lower class who are suffering, but the middle class as well.” Forty years on, the ideas and dreams of these men remain as big as ever. But so too are the challenges they face. Internal leadership divisions, regional turmoil and the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian showdown could at any time take center stage.
Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters have taken to the streets of Israeli cities demanding “social justice.” The rally has already been called the largest in the history of the Jewish state.
According to local media, more than 400,000 Israelis took to the streets in cities across the country on Saturday night. More than 300,000 are said to be protesting in Tel Aviv near the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s residence, and more than 100,000 demonstrated elsewhere, particularly in Haifa and Jerusalem. The estimated figures were record breaking, exceeding even the 300,000 people who took part in similar demonstration on August 6. Organizers have been dubbing the rally the “Million Man March,” hoping that 1 million people will turn out on the streets of Israel.
There have not been any reports from the police yet.
Many Israelis are angry with living costs and the government’s handling of social issues, including education and health care. People say it is simply too expensive to live in Israel.
The protestors want Prime Minister Netanyahu to enact economic reforms. A committee to examine the call for reforms has been formed, but the prime minister has warned he cannot meet all the protesters’ demands.
The most recent demonstration marked the eighth week in a row of protests around Israel. The “Million Man March” movement began in mid-July when some angry Israelis set up protest tents in Tel Aviv and other cities across the country.