Back in my settler days, one of the year's highlights was "Jerusalem Day", the anniversary of the capture of the Old City of Jerusalem and its holy sites by the Israeli Army in the June 1967 Six Day War. On the eve of Jerusalem Day thousands of us would gather at Yeshivat Mercaz Harav
in West Jerusalem, the center of messianic settler theology, to hear civic leaders and leading settler rabbis speak in honor of Jewish Jerusalem.
One year I went with a classmate. The most illustrious speaker on the dais gave my friend a hug as he left the hall. This was his uncle, Yacov Herzog, President of the State of Israel. For me, President Herzog's participation at Mercaz Harav conferred mainstream respectability on settler ideology.
After the speeches were over, we would gather outside on the street and start walking and singing
through downtown West Jerusalem, past Jaffa Gate into the Old City. We continued down through the Arab bazaar, banging on the shuttered stalls, singing religious/nationalistic songs and waving Israel flags. Our destination was the plaza in front of the Western Wall - the open space that was, prior to 1967, an Arab residential neighborhood
The last few hours of the night was spent schmoozing and hanging out with the girls. At daybreak, we said morning prayers, and headed home for some sleep.
I was reminded of my settler past because of this horrific video of the current generation of settler youth celebrating "Jerusalem Day" last week. Phil Weiss aptly captured the terror and danger of these youths - many of whom are still soldiers in the Israeli reserves - in his term "Whiteshirts".
On the other side of Israel's political spectrum, last night saw yet another peacenik demonstration in Tel Aviv. Oddly, while freedom of expression grows (e.g. 10 years ago who would have thought you could wave Palestinian flags at a mass rally in Tel Aviv?), the daily life for West Bank Palestinians only worsens from year to year.
If the estimates are correct and 20,000 Israeli Jews were at this demonstration, that would be the equivalent of close to 100,000 Americans. If such a demonstration took place in the United States that would be newsworthy.
However, there is actually nothing new to report here.
Firstly, Israeli grassroots democracy is famously more raucous than the United States. If 100,000 Americans stepped away from work, sports and shopping and took the streets something significant would be afoot. Not so, in Israel where Saturday night demonstrations are a routine form of street entertainment.
Secondly, if these numbers were truly indicative of a broad segment of the population why do they have no power in the Israeli parliament, with its multitude of political parties?
Thirdly, these demonstrations have been going on for years. Has the government ever changed its policies in response to them?
In fact, these demonstrations are just safety valves for the Israeli lefties who, actually, have no power. Worse, these rallies have been co-opted by the Israeli government as evidence that Israel is better than Arab regimes which quell any public opposition to government policy.
If we want good news from Israel/Palestine, it's not last night's demonstration in the Tel Aviv bubble. Instead, look to the incredibly courageous activists - Israeli and world Jews and internationals - who risk humiliation, physical injury, imprisonment and even death in order to show solidarity with the Palestinian people. By standing with Palestninian civilians these brave men and women complicate matters for the Israeli army/settlers. They are building bridges of trust between the privileged and the dispossessed. They are willing to risk their privilege and bodies, rather than live quietly within a violent system.
These are my heroes. They inspire me to stay involved in support of their heroic stand and in solidarity with the Palestinians. Unlike a Tel Aviv rally, they cannot be ignored.