Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beer Sheva Demands Social Justice (With Pics)

The Camels Nose (TCN) visit to Beer Sheva came just days after a major protest in the city in which over 20,000 people participated. Beer Sheva is a city on the periphery both geographically and socially. The city's demographic is a combination of students, religious families, and immigrants from Russia, the former Soviet Bloc, and Ethiopia.

This was a major theme of the protesters' message in Beer Sheva. The large white sign below translates as "Bibi, there is a country outside of Tel Aviv!"

Most of the blue tents in the picture remain unoccupied throughout the day. Supporters generally come to the protests, outside Beer Sheva's Grinberg Center for Children on the city's main street, during the evening hours.

This morning TCN visited the camp to talk to some of the protesters.

There were about 10 people at the camp by 9:30am, ranging in age from their 20's to their 60's. There were only a few women, but the total number of people was too small to evaluate the gender balance of the protest movement itself. Despite being on the periphery, the protesters were passionate about what they were doing, and even expanding their efforts in unique ways. For example, this poster on the water cooler at the tent advertises "Biking for social justice."

The camp has a table with Nescafe and tea, and a kitchen as well. The refrigerator is powered by an extension cord going into the Grinberg Center.

The camp is across the street from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, one of Israel's seven major universities. The National Union of Israeli Students has become very involved with the protests and even has signs of its own which read "fighters for the home."

Some in the Bedouin community in and around Beer Sheva has also entered the protests. While the extent to which they've been accepted by the movement is unclear, the movement does seem to be promoting the idea of cooperation. The pink sign says "Social Justice for Everyone. The Bedouin are participating in the protest." The yellow sign, interestingly, says "Right to housing for all citizens. No to house demolitions." Demolition of Bedouin houses in unrecognized villages has been a key issue for the Bedouin community in the Negev desert.

Thus far, having spoken with a number of students, young professionals, and community members, common themes are arising. They are themes of which Washington DC analysts should take close note.

Theme 1: The protests did not just arise out of nowhere but grew from a "chain" of events over the past 20 years. That being said, they are unprecedented since at least the 1970's.

Theme 2: The Arab Spring is exciting, but the protests in Israel have almost nothing to do with them. Rather, they are closer to the protests in Greece and London. Two quick reactions to this point. 1) It's true, and 2) It's a good example of Israel trying to emulate Europe more than its Middle Eastern neighboors.

Theme 3: The government's reaction has been limited at best. Two representatives of the Trajtenberg Committee visited the camp. Protesters described it as "they listened..." indicating that the commission is not promoting a particular solution of its own at this point.

Finally, while there is in fact disagreement among the Israeli public as to the efficacy of the protests, many people TCN spoke with said they believe similar protests could happen in the United States, but that they hope it doesn't happen.

Whether or not this is valid, however, is the topic of a future blog post. Stay tuned...

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