“They got us stoned on this conflict”

There is no much of small talk with Honi. Starting with Argentinian Mate-Tea, the conversation slides right into a political discussion about the ongoing Social Protest in Israel. But how can you not be political in a place like this?

“There have been problems, like elsewhere,” Honi says. “We have had a lot of inner conflicts, about the message we wish to send or about people getting too strong or people always talk to the media. But this is insignificant.”

Honi’s hands go up and down while he talks. He says a lot of things, interesting, gripping things, he hardly gives me any time to take out my block and a pen. Honi has been active in the Social Protest right from the beginning, he heard about it from a friend on facebook.

” I believe, all the struggle we have within the protest, with leadership or whatever will go away and be forgotten. What remains is the message that is sent, the change in the state of mind, people wake up and stop living this reality. “

 Bar Kaima- Sustainable

The green-walled bar we sit in seems different from every other bar, you can feel an industrious atmosphere.

Everybody is helping out, carrying fruit boxes, crushing ice. They all seem to know each other. It’s hard to tell who is working here and who just came as a guest. Honi shakes a lot of hands while he keeps on talking to me.

“There are all kinds of opinions. A lot of people claim, we should change the system, start a revolution. I personally don’t want a revolution, just look back into the past and see what happend with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia or what Stalin did in Russia. I think democracy is a good thing. I want the politicians to know that we are watching them, watching them on every movement they make, that we don’t accept their corruption anymore. We want justice! Stop the system to manipulate us.”

I get a menu, it is in Hebrew, a girl with a piercing explains it to me. They only offer vegan food. I go for Focaccia, Honi stays with beer.The bar is called Bar Kaima, a word play, Hebrew for “Sustainable”. It was opened as a cooperative pub by the social protesters just two weeks ago.

The Social Protest started on July 14th in 2011. Initially a group of hundred people established tents in the Rothschild Boulevard in the center of Tel Aviv. It was supposed to be a symbolic protest against the high renting prices in Tel Aviv. Soon, other protesters with different topics joined. The movement expanded and found its peak in August when over 450,000 protesters took the street. The tents on the Rothschild Boulevard charged the protest with a festival-like atmosphere. People gathered to sing, paint and discuss.

“We want our Welfare State back”

The protesters min topics are the high cost of living, for example the rising cheese-price, and the high rent. To rent a 1-room apartment in Tel Aviv you pay around 835.16 $.This goes along with the cuts on social programs like the one on public housing.

“We want our Welfare State back,” Honi states. “Israel has changed from a welfare state to a neoliberalistic one. We want regulation against high cost of living and cuts on social programs.”

Another problem is to growing number of contract workers. Even public institutions employ security guard, cleaners, etc. on a temporary base. These workers are not protected by labor laws. At the same time labor unions have loosened their political influence.

Somebody calls from the kitchen, interrupting us, there is no Focaccia, I get some sort of Pizza, with Zaatar, a very delicious spice, on it.

In October the protest ebbed, tents were removed by the police. It seemed like the summer of resistances died out, when winter set in.

“People got tired. They still have to work, have they families, they couldn’t stay in the tents forever,” Honi explains. “But we still are supported by large parts of the population, even though not everybody is marching with us. The last year’s protests, when up to 5% of the population took the streets, have woken up the people and politicians have to react, that is a huge success.”

There have been some achievements made

“I can sense, that there is fear. I’m telling you this as a person, who works for the government. People there are aware of what is going on in the streets. Just recently some ministers refused to take a new BMW for government vehicle, ” Honi says.

"I am not a person, I am not a human being, I am a walking money bill"

“I am not a person, I am not a human being, I am a walking money bill”

Last year during the protest, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed a committee, the Trajtenberg Committee, to propose solutions to Israel’s socioeconomic problems.

And just a week ago the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) passed a law to control the high haircuts given to the big Israeli companies.

The new law includes the appointment of a commissioner to ensure that managers of public savings will not be allowed to agree to debt settlements involving discounts that serve the purposes of indebted companies at the expense of savers. One deputy called it a victory for the public against the system.

But for the protesters the problems haven’t been solved, this is why in early 2012 groups tried to revive the protest, and this time try to set up more specific demands.

In the hands of the tycoons

We’ve left the bar and are now on our way to meeting point for the new Demonstration. Sun sets, it is Saturday night, the end of the weekend, since the Israeli weekend starts with Shabbat on Friday afternoon.

On our way to the meeting point for tonight’s protest Honi explains me about the so called tycoons, about the 6 or 7 families that control the Israeli economy.

This big Israeli Business Magnate got large loans from the banks, to expand their businesses. Many of the tycoons invested the money overseas, cut into struggle due to the financial crisis. Like Nochi Dankner, who is the main owner of a large investment company called IDB Group through which he is holding many different companies like Koor Industries. Koor Industries lost 30% of the value inside three months because of speculation in Credit Suisse stock.(Check: Haaretz )

Most of the tycoons like Dankner get debt settlement. According to the Israeli Financial Newspaper Globes, there were 53 debt settlements totaling NIS 15.8 billion in the past three years. (Check: Globes)

“Our money is used for credits for these tycoons. And when they cannot pay back their money, they get haircuts. This is not fair, no one cuts our debts,” Honi complains.

Mourning for the protester, who set himself on fire

We arrive a big group of people, gathering in front of a high building.

Tonight’s marching will be different than the ones that take part every Saturday night. Moshe Silman, the man who set himself on fire during the demonstration a week ago as a protest against being kicked out of public housing, just died the night before.

This is why the protesters meet in front of the public housing company. Although you hear voices claiming it is not fair to blame the public housing company for Silman’s death, since the company also suffers under the cuts on social budgets. You see some sad faces, some angry faces. Speeches are held, people record them with their Smartphones.

Military and violence on the protests

“This year the protests are way more violent, the police going up hard on us,” tells Honi, whowas among the 90 people that got arrested during a protest in June in accuse of pushing a police man. One of Honis friends tells me that this year the military is included. “They have high official sitting in some of the buildings close to us and have us monitored with sensors,” he adds.

Then we start walking. There is no shouting, no clapping, no drumming. The walk is supposed to be quiet to mourn the death of Silman.You see all kind of people during the marching: Students, greyheaded Ladys, young parents pushing baby strollers.

We pass a man playing Sinatra’s “I did it my way” on his trompete.

Then we arrive at the place where Silman sets himself on fire, a week ago. People put candles and flowers on a white blanket on the ground. More speeches are held, some end in yelled discussions. As Arab woman holds a speech on how the protest brought Jews and Arabs together, a man bursts out into angry shouting. Protesters try to calm him.

“They got us stoned on this conflict”

“They got us stoned on this conflict, so we don’t think about all the other stuff, and meanwhile they steal from us,” Honi says. “We feed the occupation with our money, taxes, the cuts on social budgets, everything goes to the military, to root in some settlements,” Honi explains me while we try to find our way through the crowd. (If you want to read more about it: check out this blog)

“You have to understand, that the external threats, the eventually upcoming war with Iran, is not affecting our daily life. We live this parallel live. It sounds surrealistic, but there is a political live and a daily life. The Political life affects us, every now and then, meanwhile we have other problems, like finding a job, paying the rent.”

We arrive the end of the demonstration.  Soon, people start to spread. It is late, the next day is another working day.

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3 responses to ““They got us stoned on this conflict””

  1. lizee says :

    Please keep in mind that Honi’s opinion is just one of the many perspectives about the Social Protest, since it doesn’t exist an unified idea, Everyone speaks for himself.

  2. Sarah says :

    you’re right, lizee, he comes with his own opinion, yet, he mentions some very relevant aspects.
    Interesting to read, thanks for the article. And nice to think about Honi sitting in Bar Kayma talking politics 🙂 …I think that the bar itself is a proof that at least a few things have changed after last summer. Many people, that never gave a shit about politics before, were thrilled to join the cooperative to be “part of a change going on”.
    (btw: correct the headline, you forgot a y, just for the aesthetics 😉 )

    • lizee says :

      oh thanks, what an embarrassing mistake. The bar was wonderful, i really enjoyed the atmopshere, full of solidarity. As i wrote, everybody was helping out. maybe this is because they have this long tradition with the kibbuz in Israel.

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