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–     Originally written on Saturday, September 3, 2011, by Liron Peleg-Hadomi     –

It’s 12 a.m. on Saturday. I have just come home and cannot find the words to express the way I feel tonight. Is it really happening? Is there a chance that Israel will be what we hoped for?

This evening, 460,000 people around the country were protesting in the streets, saying: “We want – we

demand – social change.” In Haifa, 50,000 people, women and men, Jews and Arabs, walked the streets together, feeling for the first time united for one important goal: to make Israel a better place for everyone.

On the stage, local leaders from the different communities in Haifa talked about the need for housing, education and healthcare. One of the speakers, a young Arab who lives in Haifa, said, “The fact that we are here tonight, Jewish and Arab, asking for the same thing, walking side by side – this is the real co-existence.”

This summer is a very special one in the history of Israeli society. Last month, increasing housing and commodity prices motivated a small group of women to come together with the mission to make Israel a better place. By speaking up and organizing, they helped develop a movement that is now comprised of women and men, Jewish and Arab, children and elderly. 

One particularly successful effort within this movement has been the establishment of tent zones across the nation, and members of the Vital Voices Peace and Prosperity program are leading some of these communities.

Erecting tents in gardens, squares and other public areas of cities and villages, Israelis are using these zones as a means of peaceful protest. There, they come together to sit in support of the movement and participate in workshops and lectures about topics like social change, housing, and education. 

Smadar Friedlander, a young community social worker who takes part in the Vital Voices group, said:

“I am one of 50 social workers all over Israel… assisting the underprivileged people in the tents. Doing community work by locating needs and solutions, helping organize goals and strategies, I personally spend every day going… to a tent of three single moms with their eight children, aiding them with concrete needs and advocating for them in the municipal system-a difficult and frustrating job because the authorities are ignoring them. These women and children live on welfare income, were thrown from their homes, and stay in a few tents in a garden in the city of Holon with no water, toilets, ways to cook and more. As a woman and an activist, I believe that I have to do whatever I can to stop the indifference and to make these women realize their power to make a change.” 

Yael Havassy, 30, a social worker and law student who is also part of the Vital Voices group, said that she and her friends set up the tent city on Ben-Gurion on Thursday night out of the belief that people should be able to find a protest in their neighborhood that deals with the issues affecting their lives: 

“Everybody needs to be able to step outside their homes and protest within their neighborhoods; they shouldn’t have to look for a specific framework or designated protest area in the city… We have no idea how long we’ll stay here, or if we’ll manage to stay. All of us are either students or we have work tomorrow. Still, the fact that we brought the protest to another area of the city and met and spoke to tons of people means that it has been a success.”

We never thought this kind of social change movement would happen. I teach community work at colleges and constantly tell my students that you don’t see people protesting in the streets in Israel. And now, we have a whole nonviolent demonstration in which citizens want to participate. 

Last night one of the women leaders, Dafni Leaf, who helped found this movement, stated:

“This summer we learned that we all have a place. Tomorrow will be what we’ll make it. After this summer, we know it is permitted to dream. Moreover, we realized that we must! To dream is to be alive… You can change the world, and anyone can. [You] just need to believe, stand up, and do. The responsibility is on all of us [to] get up and walk and walk and talk and do. Do not give up.”

I left the event tonight feeling energized and, for the first time in years, so proud to be Israeli. There is a great desire to see social change and different priorities take hold in Israel. We each have the power to make this change occur, and we’re not going to stop. I pray and hope that the movement I have witnessed and taken part in this summer will make a difference – but I know that tonight was already transformative.

–     Afterword – September 15, 2011     –

It seems that the tent zones area is finished, time has now passed and most of the tents have been dismantled. Those that remain serve people who don’t have houses and places to go to.

Now there is a professional committee that needs to give their recommendations to the government regarding the issues and solutions related to the current protest. Citizens continue coming to meetings, big events, and workshops to discuss the situation, and we are waiting to see how the government will react.

With a great hope for a change,