Highlights of the march, part 4: disagreeing with what they say; defending their right to say it

Highlights of the march, part 4: disagreeing with what they say; defending their right to say it

One of the more interesting and bizarre events connected to the Tel Aviv March for International Human Rights occurred just one day before the event. Im Tirzu, a far-right group that has spearheaded the campaign against Israeli human rights groups over the past year, sent out a press release announcing their intention to participate in the march, under the slogan “A Jew has human rights too.”

Im Tirzu led scurrilous campaigns against Israeli human rights groups, trying to intimidate and de-fund them. The most infamous case was that of Prof. Naomi Hazan, director of the New Israel Fund, whom they caricatured, threatened and vilified. ACRI was also a target of Im Tirzu’s campaign, which seemed to be well-coordinated with a number of similar organizations.

And so Im Tirzu’s announcement seemed bizarre, to put it mildly. Here was an organization that had for over a year devoted its energies to undermining and attacking the human rights community, announcing its intention to march with them on International Human Rights Day. Was this a joke? How did they feel their human rights had been violated?

In the spirit of its mandate and its ethos, ACRI’s response to Im Tirzu was something along the lines of the great Enlightenment figure Voltaire’s famous saying, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

And in the end, only a few dozen Im Tirzu supporters showed up at the march, and the police kept them separate, treating them as counter-demonstrators. There was no violence – not even of an exchange of verbal violence.

The fabulous satirical site The Onion once published a piece entitled, ACLU defends Nazis’ rights to burn down ACLU headquarters. Money quote:

Making the case all the more controversial is the neo-Nazis’ demand that the ACLU’s entire 315-person staff be in the building at the time of the blaze. Strongly opposing the request are New York City police commissioner William Bratton, fire chief Ed Holm and mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who said that all 315 will die if trapped in the 47-story building during the blaze. ACLU attorneys responded that they will request a federal appeals hearing if the City of New York attempts to stop them and their fellow ACLU employees from perishing in the Nov. 25 blaze.

The Onion piece is funny because it is a wild exaggeration; if it were closer to the truth, it would not be funny. And if we are going to talk about who is confused, I would direct your attention to the photograph below, taken by photographer Mati Milstein (click here to view more of his amazing photos). I’ve posted Mati’s description of the photo, as well.

Identity Crisis, by Mati Milistein

Mati’s description:

The far-right Im Tirzu movement prepares to participate in the International Human Rights Day march in Tel Aviv. The activist on the right, who wears both a Jewish skullcap and a Palestinian keffiyeh, holds a sign reading “A Jew also has human rights.”

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Highlights from the march, part 3: System Ali

Highlights from the march, part 3: System Ali

System Ali is a Palestinian-Israeli hip hop group based in Jaffa. They sing in Arabic, Hebrew, Russian and English. They were the opening act at the Rabin Square rally for human rights following the march; and looking at that incredibly talented, energetic ensemble composed of men and women and Palestinians and Jews, creating their own reality of co-existence or bi-nationalism or whatever you want to call it, I thought to myself, What a great example for the Middle East to follow.

Click here to listen to System Ali; and click here to read more about them.

System Ali performing at Rabin Square on Human Rights Day (photo: Lisa Goldman)

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Highlights from the march, part 2: the refugees

Highlights from the march, part 2: the refugees

The African refugees were the stars of the march for human rights in Tel Aviv. They formed the largest contingent by far, and they caught everyone’s attention with their continous rhythmic chant of “We are refugees!” They held signs with simple, poignant messages: “We do not belong in prison”; “we need help”; and “we need protection.”

African refugees at the march for human rights (photo: Lisa Goldman)

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Highlights from the march, part 1: Sami Michael

Highlights from the march, part 1: Sami Michael

Sami Michael, a renowned novelist who is also the President of ACRI, was born and raised in Baghdad. He learned Hebrew as an adult, arriving in Israel shortly after the state was founded, and he writes his novels in Hebrew, but his native language is Arabic. He often describes his great love of Arabic, his love for Iraq and his pride in his Iraqi heritage; in the same vein, he speaks of his love for Israel and his pride in its accomplishments.

Sami Michael, just before he ascended the stage to give his speech at the human rights day rally (photo: Lisa Goldman)

At Rabin Square, following the March for Human Rights, he opened the events with a speech that he gave partly in Arabic.The audience included many native Arabic speakers – Bedouin from the Negev who had come to protest the destruction of their homes, Palestinian-Arab-Israelis from the Galilee and MKs Mohammed Barakeh and Ahmed Tibi. As Sami Michael, the Iraqi-Jewish-Israeli, spoke about peace and acceptance in their shared native language, one could feel a surge of emotion – and then hear the warmth of the applause.

Below is a scan of the text Sami Michael read, written in his own hand, and underneath that is a translation.

The section of Sami Michael's speech in Arabic, in his own handwriting.

Translation:

And to the Palestinian people and I say that our future is inevitably a shared future. Despite the voices that call for enmity, there is a wide public that wishes to live in peaceful coexistence.

Sadly the moderate majority has been stricken by the ailment of silence. We are here to say that our voice is shared, as our path is shared.

Either we die together or we live together. We are here to announce that we have chosen life.

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Photos from the December 10 Tel Aviv march for International Human Rights Day

Photos from the December 10 Tel Aviv march for International Human Rights Day

As promised, we have collected photos taken at the march and the rally at Rabin Square and posted them online. We will continue to add more photos as they come in from various sources. All are available, as long as there is fair use (credit to the photographer).

Click here to view the album.

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Thousands marched in Tel Aviv on International Human Rights Day

Thousands marched in Tel Aviv on International Human Rights Day

On Friday, 10 December, an estimated 10,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv for human rights. The striking diversity of the participants made the politicians’ constant repetition of the phrase ‘Jewish state’ sound like a wish rather than a reality. There were Muslim and Christian Palestinians, Jews, religious and secular, gay and straight, African refugees from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. Some were refugees, but they all live and work in Israel – all are threads in the social fabric of this country.

There was a feeling of warmth and goodwill at that march; Yuval Ben-Ami compares it to a Friday afternoon family gathering – complete with ‘annoying relatives’ (a few dozen right-wing protesters who somehow managed to make the Israeli flag look like a weapon and classic Israeli folk songs sound violent). Friends greeted one another with hugs and kisses as demonstrators chanted lustily and passing drivers honked their horns in support. Human rights, after all, is such a broad, inclusive term that it’s easy to express support.

But then, while listening to the Palestinian-Israeli hip-hop group System Ali perform at Rabin Square in Hebrew and Arabic, I read on Twitter, via Joseph Dana, that the IDF was laying siege to the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh. Soldiers were shooting long range tear gas canisters directly at unarmed demonstrators, at a dangerously close range. They were using live ammunition to quell peaceful villagers who only wanted the land confiscated by settlers returned to them. All of this was happening just a few minutes’ drive from Rabin Square, in the West Bank. In Israel the police protect peaceful demonstrators that are organized by large organizations; but in the West Bank, just a short drive away, the police beat, shoot and arrest peaceful demonstrators.

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People are talking about marching for human rights

People are talking about marching for human rights

Friday, 10 December, is the day of Israel’s march for human rights. Thousands of Israelis from all walks of life and representing a rainbow of concerns will come together to demonstrate for civil rights for all. Below are some thoughts about human rights from various Israelis

***

I learned most of all about the meaning of my protest – being a young, Sephardi, Jewish Israeli woman – when I encountered he unbelievable policy that this state, the Sate of the Jews, employs vis-à-vis refugees and asylum seekers. I feel that my protest is not a solely individual one but rather follows from great compassion which, so I feel, should be a most basic thing for any man and woman who live freely anywhere. Apart from the fact that most of our mothers and fathers were refugees, and that one of Israel’s most advanced industries exports weapons that are used in conflicts in African countries [from where some refugees now here originate], there is the basic, shining premise that the strong must help the weak. This is the foundation of it all. I do not wish to compel anyone, but I do feel that is our moral obligation.

Come march with us, asylum seeking men and women, alongside activists from the entire spectrum. Join the cycle of compassion in which we open our arms to receive more and more people, and to give too, until we succeed in making Israel (which sometimes makes it hard and makes us despair) an equal and containing state. Because, after all, ours are the arms that uphold it and its leaders.

Meital Russo, activist with ASSAF – The Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

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The right to a healthy environment means that every individual has the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and build their home on uncontaminated land. That right also means that every individual has the right to fight for a healthy environment: To struggle against a plant that would not install filters because they are costly; fight for promoting public instead of private means of transportation; and encourage the exposure of documents that attest to failed environmental planning.

I can see that the causes we are fighting for may differ but are nonetheless similar in many ways. Whether it be the environment, the occupied territories, the refugees, or the protection of children – our country avoids making decisions, issuing policies, or enforcing the law.

This is why I will be marching next Friday. I wish to call on my state to realize that public life needs organization and policy; and that in many, too many issues the state decides not to decide for irrelevant reasons, and because each ministry strongly defends its own share, and because the State of Israel is privatizing itself to death and surrendering to the wishes of the wealthy and affluent.
I will march also because we don’t take to the streets often enough, since it is easier to expect others to do it for us.

Ronit Piso, Public Health Coalition in Israel

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