Last Friday, December 10, 2011 was the first annual International Human Rights Day here in Israel. Beginning around 10:30 am last Friday morning, various groups gathered at Habima Theater in Tel Aviv, rallying for hours until they reached Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv. Thousands of people, composed of approximately 130 separate groups, rallied in the streets. Groups included organizations such as Peace Now, Meretz, Im Tirzu, West Bank settlers, Eritrean refugees and Negev Bedouin people. Social protest leader Daphne Leef also took part in the march, who is well known in association with the Tent City protests that overtook Tel Aviv over the last year. Her particular movement drew in hundreds of thousands of people in protest to the astronomical cost of living here in Israel, which, in comparison with the meager wages that are typical in Israel have left people struggling. For months, tents dotted the streets of Tel Aviv and surrounding cities, as people moved out of their homes and into the streets full-time to protest.
Being a democratic society, Israelis have truly taken charge of the right to voice their opinions and to have their voices heard. Specifically, the protesters stood united, despite their disparate fronts regarding the fact that the erosion of democracy here in Israel has left many groups without equal rights. So, despite the fact whether the protesters marched for human rights, Arab rights, gay and lesbian equality, migrant workers' rights, or environmentalist and feminist rights, the commonality was that each of these groups stood united on the front that they were demanding basic human rights which should be common to all people.
Leftist marchers carried signs reading “The right will not silence me”, “Bibi, resign” and “We will protect the democratic space”. Settler marchers carried signs reading “Jews in the settlements also have rights”. Again, despite the intragroup differences of opinion on political issues, the message was a united one: we demand social justice and equality for all groups. Never before have we had so many different waring groups come together in the same place for a joint cause. There's something inspiring about that.
At the conclusion of the march, the president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, author Sami Michael, awarded the human rights medal to the founders of the human rights organization "Yesh Din," and to the family of Nir Katz, who was murdered in the gay center shooting in Tel Aviv this past August. Speaking at the rally, Michael stressed the importance of Human Rights Day. "We are all survivors of a damned century. A century of wars and bloodshed... We are here in order to emphasize that we all belong to a magnificent race - the human race. We are here to fight for human rights and we will continue to be here tomorrow and the day after that. We must always be here in order to secure a civil and fair society," Michael said.
What is important to remember is that Israel is a parliamentary democracy whose existence and establishment was based on the notion of equality for all. It was and is a country established to safeguard those who have been persecuted. Thus, moreso than in other democracies worldwide, Israel has a unique mission to safeguard its citizens and to mullify various waring factions and opposing opinions. It is not an easy battle. Please see the video below for Prime Minister Netanyahu's references to International Human Rights Day:
I found the video very interesting in reference to the fact that Israel is a nation attempting to carry out the promises and duties of a democratic nation while simultaneously having its existence and borders challenged. As you might imagine, that is no easy task. More than anything, the establishment of International Human Rights Day exemplifies the drive and mission of the types of people who occupy Israeli land. They are passionate, persistent, vocal, engaging and driven while also being wounded and sensitive. It will be interesting to see what sorts of changes actualize in the coming months and years in response to the unending protests of the people of Israel.