Last week proved once again just how dangerous the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government is. The decision to forcibly take over the ships in route to Gaza led to a horrible tragedy that should have been foreseen. The victims in this were not just the dead and wounded on the boats, but also our two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, along with the prospects for dialogue and peace in the region.
The same seven unabashed, right-wing ministers that handled the flotilla incident, will be the ones to direct the next war. This is the time to raise a clear, strong voice of protest and of warning. Thousands have already taken to the streets in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and in other communities across the country. As Shabbat ends on the eve of June 5th, we will take to the streets of Tel Aviv for an important protest against the impending war that creeps upon us and threatens the entire region. A protest demonstrating our rejection of the 43 years of occupation, and our support for a peace, based on two states for two people, with both countries’ capitals in Jerusalem.On this day, the effects of decades of occupation on our society are clearer and stronger than ever. With this day, we mark a year that has been characterized by increasing threats to our democracy, as the occupation rapidly eats away at the moral and democratic foundations of the state.
In the face of these dangers and moral deteriorations, I also sense the start of a call to action. This reawakening is exemplified by the May Day events that took place on an unprecedented scale throughout the country – in the center of Jerusalem, in Sheikh Jarrah, Haifa, Beer Sheba (the first time in history), in the villages of Yassif and Arraba, and in Nazareth. In Tel Aviv, marches set out from three different locations and joined together in one massive demonstration in the center of the city. The event was truly impressive, with the most May Day participants that Tel Aviv has seen in years, something that was very exciting to be a part of. This year’s May Day demonstrations serve as a reminder of the fact that the struggles for equality and peace, social and environmental justice, democracy and worker’s rights, foreign workers and social workers are all interconnected, and one cannot be separated from the other.
In spite of everything, even amidst these difficult times, there are successes. The greatest accomplishment of this past month was the cancellation of the Wisconsin Plan. The plan, which clearly demonstrated the government’s blatant disregard for the most basic social rights of the country’s weakest populations, was finally terminated after a long and persistent battle both in the Knesset and outside of it, involving the participation of both civil society organizations and victims of the plan. The cancellation of the plan took the government by surprise, and as such, in spite of our warnings, it avoided making any preparations for the event. I have called on the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to absorb the Wisconsin Plan participants and to integrate them into the unemployment services immediately. We will continue to struggle in every way possible against the privatization of social services, by confronting any new forms that the plan takes on, which will certainly happen, and also by continuing our struggle in all fields in which privatizations occur.
The last few months were characterized by Netanyahu’s continued attempts to thwart the peace process, and an increase in threats to our democratic sphere. Behind the smoke screen of a false settlement freeze, the Netanyahu government continues to build settlements and to prevent any chance of peace with the Palestinians and Syria. The preparations for the next war proceed, a war that could be more difficult and more dangerous than any of its predecessors. All the while, the delegitimization campaign continues, targeting anyone who voices a different opinion, from human rights organizations, to academics, brave journalists, and peace activists.
The violent behavior of the police in the Sheikh Jarrah protests, some of which I took part in, is a further expression of the current threats to our democratic space. As the police allow settlers to celebrate and provoke the residents of Sheikh Jarrah, human rights activists are forbidden from entering the “Jewish neighborhood” (according to the police) and are violently removed from it. All the while, the army stands aside as the settlers of Itzhar fire live bullets onto a joint Israeli-Palestinian tree-planting event, an action that was organized by the group, “Combatants for Peace,” and an event that I attended. Meanwhile, non-violent activists in Billin are brought to stand trial before a military tribunal.
It is important to note that these harsh actions do not succeed in silencing our struggle. On the contrary, they have led to its expansion: restraining orders that were issued against the Shekih Jarrah activists brought the struggle to Tel Aviv, Haifa and to universities across the country. Similarly, the shooting attack perpetuated by the Itzhar settlers was filmed and broadcasted by Channel 10.
This month we witnessed the Knesset aligning itself with a racist and anti-democratic proposal directed against Arab MKs, and sponsored by a declared Kahane supporter, MK Ben Ari. The proposal calls for the implementation of severe sanctions against those MKs who traveled to Libya, despite the fact that they broke no laws during their trip. This campaign of incitement against the Arab population, which tries to present them as an internal threat, is actually in itself the true danger facing us today. Politically speaking, the cases of Amir Makhul and Omer Saeed are exploited, and will continue to be exploited to further this mission.
On another level, there is an ongoing campaign, initiated by Binyamin Netanyahu, to dissolve the country’s building and planning committees. At the center of the “destruction campaign” lies an effort to promote Netanyahu’s plan for construction reform, aka the Holy Land reform, a move that will protect the interests of wealthy stakeholders and real estate vendors, at the expense of the public, the environment, and our future. During the past few months we are concentrating our efforts on preventing this new parliamentary bill. In the face of the Holy Land reform, I am promoting an alternative bill that calls for transparency in the procedures of the Israel Land Administration.
I have also raised suspicions regarding the sale of building permits to a real estate vendor in the Palmachim beach, suspicions that were confirmed in a very harsh report submitted by the State Comptroller. Yet despite the report’s troubling findings, the threat of Palmachim real estate persists, and the struggle for the beach’s future carries on.
At the same time, a parallel struggle is taking place against plans to establish a massive gas facility near the shore of Dor Beach. In the Knesset committees and plenum, I stood alongside the residents who are struggling against the dangers that the facility poses to their safety, as well as the environmental damage that it will cause. Additionally, I pushed for the adoption of an alternative “in-sea” gas facility, a method that is widely preferred by other countries, countries that enjoy both a lower population density and a more stable security situation. To ensure the implementation of this in-sea facility, the government must stand strong against pressure from the real estate vendor. Considering the vendor’s minimal financial obligations to the government, it is only right that we work to prevent building on the coastline so that the company can increase its already outrageous profits.
Throughout the past year, I have been pushing for the nationalization of the Red Line Light Rail in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Beyond all of the disagreement over the extent of the line’s ability to resolve the transportation crisis in the region, it should be clear that the private concessionaire (a partnership between Africa-Israel and German and Chinese corporations) is failing to meet its contractual obligations – and is thus not the solution, but in fact the problem. In both the political and professional fields, I am working to bring about the nationalization of the Red Line Light Rail, as I am convinced that this is the way to ensure its guaranteed construction.
But the residents of the Tel Aviv Metropolitan area are fed up with waiting for the train, and rightfully so. Better alternatives, that were successfully tested across the world, are available. A broad partnership initiated by the organization, "city for us all", along with social and environmental organizations and professional advisers have worked intensively over the last year to create an immediate and effective solution by promoting public transportation and improving its efficiency. A reliable and efficient network of environmentally-friendly buses, mini buses, and additional features for cyclists and pedestrians could significantly improve our quality of life, our health, and accessibility in the region.
We are standing today at the beginnings of pride month, the month of June. A month marking the struggle for the individual’s right to live in freedom and dignity. This year’s pride celebration is stricken by the grief and mourning of the terrifying murder in "Barnoar" last summer. It is clear that we still have a long road ahead of us. We are currently pushing forward a bill that would formalize anti-discrimination legislation on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in our educational facilities, in order to explicitly declare that discrimination, violence, and homophobia have no place in our education system. I intend to take part in the pride parades in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
We will continue to address the civil concerns that are brought before us, and we hope to be able to assist in the best way that we can.
Of course, I would love to hear comments and responses, and again, I would like to invite you all to participate in the demonstration this Saturday.