As the Right celebrates 50 years of military rule over the Palestinians, the Left must not be afraid to create alliances between struggles and remind Israelis that ending the occupation is everyone’s task.
By Eli Bitan
The following is the full text of Local Call blogger and editor Eli Bitan’s speech in front of 10,000 left-wing protesters at Saturday’s anti-occupation rally:
Today we count 47 days days until the Omer. Today, in the early hours of the morning, we finished counting 41 days since thousands of political prisoners went on hunger strike to protest their conditions. A strike that ended this morning.
Forty-one days without food, without meeting their attorneys, and with violent attempts at breaking their spirit. Forty-one days in which masses of Palestinians have been protesting, both in Israel and in the West Bank, to improve their conditions — worse than any other prisoners, regardless of what they were jailed for. Forty-one days in which we, Israel’s Jewish citizens, have known nearly nothing about this strike or the demands of the prisoners — all under the auspices of a silent media, and the lies of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who lied to the U.S. president in our name, lies to us in the name of the Netanyahu government, just as he did with Umm al-Hiran. Bald-faced lies.
Forty-one days in which two Palestinians were killed by the Border Police or settlers: Saba Abu Ubeid from Nabi Saleh and Muataz Hussein Hilal Bani Shamsa from the village Beita near Nablus. These were two young men who went out to protest in support of the hunger striking prisoners.
My name is Eli Bitan. I grew up in Ramat Beit Shemesh within an ultra-Orthodox family. I studied in a Shas-run school and later on in a yeshiva in Bnei Brak, two very Haredi institutions. Like most Israelis, I was raised on the ethos that Israel stretches out its hand in peace. I was raised to believe that Israelis want peace, and will do everything they can to achieve it. That there is a small, marginal group — ideological settlers — who view war as victory and revere land over life.
The ultra-Orthodox, as opposed to what many believe in Israel, are moderate when it comes to these issues. Two of its most prominent leaders over the past 50 years held clear dovish positions: Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who granted halakhic legitimacy to the peace deal with Egypt and political legitimacy to the Oslo Accords, and Rabbi Elazar Shach, who did not allow the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party to join Menachem Begin’s government until he pledged not to go to war without the former’s approval. Shach gave hundreds of political speeches in which he repeated the halakhic worldview, which sanctifies human life over land. No, this is not a Left that speaks about equality and human rights, but this is not a sector that opposes the two-state solution, as has been proven time and time again.
Only once I grew up and learned the distant and recent history did I understand how far we — all of us — have been led astray. Our bleeding hand is outstretched in peace, yet not the hands of our prime ministers and elected officials, which have been responsible for 50 years of dispossession, theft, and occupation of the Palestinians. Through deceptions, both internal and external, the settlers in the government are doing everything they can to maintain conflict and war, which creates more victims from both people on a daily basis. And yet, despite the rise of a violent right-wing, the majority of people in Israel and Palestine believe in and want two states for two people.
I am a young man, there are people in the crowd who are veteran activists against the occupation who have paid a big price for this struggle. It is my honor to stand before you and speak tonight.
I remember the first time I came to Rabin Square to a protest. I was a 17-year-old yeshiva student dressed in a white dress shirt and carrying a black jacket in my bag. Just like back then, today I look around and ask myself where is everybody? Where are all the Israelis who pay the terrible price for the occupation? I stood there alone with my white shirt and black kippa. Today there are a few dozen ultra-Orthodox, but this is not enough. There are hundreds and thousands of young haredim, men and women, who discover the heavy price they have paid for the political alliance with the Right. Our role is to make them feel at home, to create an alliance between struggles, not to let the differences make us forget that we all live on this land, and that yes — ending the occupation is everyone’s task, everyone who lives here.
Fifty years of occupation, of an enormous, never-ending injustice, force us to stop working within our comfort zones, to join new groups, and to let Palestinians lead the struggle. As the Right divides us, it is incumbent that we make connections. As the Right incites, we must meet and talk. As they try to put up walls to divide us into classes, tribes, and sectors, we must break through the differences they invented and join together. As the Right celebrates 50 years on the deck of the Titanic, we must shine a light on the occupation and say, without fear: these have been 50 years too many.
Eli Bitan is a journalist in the Haredi press in Israel, and is a blogger on Local Call, where this post was originally published in Hebrew.