Some 100,000 people, Arabs and Jews, demonstrated across Israel tonight, after the J14 movement decided to break with tradition and hold rallies in a dozen different locations instead of one central rally in Tel Aviv. The decision resulted in several protests breaking local records, with over 15,000 demonstrating in Beer Sheva, over 30,000 in Haifa, over 15,000 in Afula (population 40,000). Other locations included the Arab city of Nazareth, the blue-collar town of Or Yehouda, the commuter city of Modi’in, Beit Shemesh, Netanya, Rishon Letzion and many others.
While the protest in Jaffa, which has seen many clashes between police and protesters over the years, ended peacefully, in Or Yehouda some 500 people blocked the road and burned tires. One of the speakers at the Beer Sheva rally,Hanan Alsana, a Negev Bedouin, said the J14 struggle was for everyone, and called on Arabs and Bedouin to join the protest.
While this week’s protest numbers fall far below last week’s 300,000, this is the first time a major political movement or campaign decides not to hold a rally in Tel Aviv at all and calls on everyone to demonstrate in their home towns. The organisers are still calling for a million-strong march in early September. They appear to be in no rush to begin talks with the government, preferring instead to set up mixed experts and protesters committees fleshing out various demands, including a committee on changing the system of election and governance in Israel.
Feminist Arab-Jewish blogger Lihi Yona posted on Facebook after attending one of the protests: “I’m just back form the Haifa demo… if I may, this was the most exciting experience I had in my life. The number of Arab women and men speaking to huge applause from the crowd made me believe there will be a just, equitable state here some day. [Author] Sami Michael, who chose to speak in both Arabic and Hebrew, and the Arab singer – and more importantly, the masses that rocked to that singer’s music – made this night the most amazing experience I ever had.”
“For years, I would feel the need to correct people when they’d say Haifa was a mixed city,” Yona told +972. “I would feel the need to point out that it’s not mixed, that it’s segregated. And tonight it really was an integrated city… there were more Arab speakers than Jews and each time someone would say, in Arabic, “Arabs and Jews,” the crowd understood and cheered them on.”