PART ONE: Tel Aviv (See Photo links at end of post)
From my former posts and the news most people can pretty much figure out that I was caught in a whirlwind of events. Unfortunately, like so many people in the Middle East daily events which we see on the nightly news have a way of influencing our daily and personal lives. From my pasts posts also some of you will also remember that I made a conscious decision to not sit idle in self-exile but to bring myself back to the state I was in before graduate school; one of activism and speaking out.
During the last month I participated in three events which I will present also in pictures in links you can see at the bottom of this post. Following the incident of the Israeli raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara I found myself caught in the middle. After leaving Turkey, I arrived to Israel and like so many leftists knew there was going to be a demonstration on the first Saturday following the event which occurred on Monday morning (May 31). First of all Saturday June 5th was the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, marking the subsequent 43 year occupation of the Palestinian territories. No longer one needs to look in the newspapers to find out when and where a demonstration is; already a few days before the demonstration I found out on facebook that Peace Now, Meretz, the Israeli Leftist Hadash party, and other leftists groups were holding a demonstration entitled “this government is sinking all us –meaning- bringing us all down.
In total about 6000 people demonstrated with the greatest turn out being the Jewish and Palestinian members of Hadash (the Communist party). However, even if the Zionist left Meretz party and Peace Now produced a small group, they turned out in greater numbers than the last demonstration I participated against the Gaza Raid in December 2008. Of course, with the Labor party completely abandoning the Left, the days of demonstrators reaching 50,000-100,000 are over. Importantly, the demonstration was widely broadcasted on Turkish television showing that there is an opposition in Israel and de facto challenged the radical voices in Turkey who try (and somewhat successfully) to convince the Turkish population that the Israeli state is one only of killers and a war mongering people, with their rhetoric basically gushing out anti-Semitic slogans. Furthermore, for me the demonstration was a sign that if the Israeli left does some real soul searching they might even have a chance to rebound from the massive defeat of the last elections.
The next demonstration I went to was more of a party than a demonstration. The annual LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) Pride parade in Tel Aviv has turned into a massive show of force where serious topics are mixed with a love and pride, attracting this year around 100,000 gay and straight participants/protestors. Starting off with politicians and members of the community, we were reminded that even in Tel Aviv where we live in an open liberal paradise we cannot forget that last year’s armed attack on a gay youth organization, killing two members and injuring over 15, still remains unresolved. This tragic event was relatively uncovered in the foreign press once it was clear that it was not a “terrorist attack” but done apparently as an “inside job” – by an Israeli Jew. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Tel_Aviv_gay_centre_shooting_spree) And as Israelis are so trained to do, at the official opening of Pride we all stood a moment of silence for those killed and injured in the attack, and honored one of the victim’s mother who presented a moving speech of what it was like losing her son and her role in the LGBT parent support group.
The main parade this year had to compete with two other “alternative” parades which focused more on protest figuring that we cannot be “free” as long as we are oppressing Palestinians. However, these small alternative parades also joined the official opening, which was followed by the exiting of thousands of people to the beginning point on Bograshov Street. From there the floats took off and thousands upon thousands more joined in for what would become one of the most festive events I have witnessed in Israel outside of Independence Day celebrations. The march ended at the beach where a huge party lasting until the beginning of Shabbat (7:00 pm).
What was most surprising was the fact that twenty years ago only a few hundred people would have joined in. For the secular Jewish society in Israel, living an alternative lifestyle has become somewhat of a norm, with gays and lesbians serving in the army, receiving rights that in the US would seem impossible, and adopting and bringing children into the world. Further, more and more religious Jews are coming out and demanding that the religion take them into consideration and offer them expression to their natural feelings. Still, we should not forget that two major communities were not present: the ultra-orthodox and the Palestinians citizens of Israel. In reference to the latter, there are LGBT Palestinians organizations in Israel however co-existence in Pride exists mainly in Haifa, with no visible presence of Arab organizations in Tel Aviv. Of course, there were Arabs intermingled within the thousands of people. However, historically Tel Aviv, the first “Hebrew city” has never been friendly to the indigenous Palestinian population despite its large “liberal” population and their voting for the “left” parties.
In the end it is important to state that even if it seems as if Pride was only a great huge outdoor party, it is indeed a demonstration of pride and it is very political. Israel has taken great steps to allow the LGBT community to thrive. Still if we are not careful the bubble of Tel Aviv can burst. Poverty and war –and the lack of will among its leaders to reach a peace agreement- are serious threats to the stability of the State in general, not to mention to the community.
I would like to take this opportunity also to state that the new trend in Gay Pride parades worldwide to bash Israel while remaining blind to their own injustices is in itself an injustice. On the other hand, the trend of the Israeli foreign ministry to portray Israel as a leader of gay rights in the Middle East as a way to discredit Iran, Hamas, and other countries and organizations is also an equally unrelated pathetic use of human rights to gain irrelevant points in a long worn out conflict.
Part Two “Istanbul Demonstrations and Pride” will be posted in a few days along with a link to the photos.
Link to pictures of the Tel Aviv Demonstration and Pride
Link to short TRT coverage of the Tel Aviv demonstration (in Turkish):