Hope must once again conquer “The Rabin Square”

It now seems as if thousands of light years have passed between the summer of 2011 and the summer of 2014. It is hard to believe that the same “city square”, once an open arena for hopeful debates involving social issues and reform, has now recently become an arena of confrontation between the violent and hostile groups about “Operation Protective Edge.”

During the summer of 2011, while shouting out for much-needed social reforms involving the high cost of living, we never asked who is shouting next to us. We didn’t try to find out if they love or hate the Israeli flag or if they support “Beitar” or “Hapoel” soccer teams. We didn’t ask what they think of Haneen Zoabi, Miri Regev, Gideon Levi or Danny Danon. We didn’t ask their position on the threat of rockets from Gaza or a political agreement with the Palestinian Authority. We never asked for their opinion on renting apartments to Arabs or the “Price Tag Policy”. We simply marched together, shouting at the top of our lungs, motivated by a strong, optimistic feeling that we had a joint future to fight for.  In that summer’s debate about social justice, one thing was clear – the voices echoed hope. The voices were ones which expressed the desire to build and fix what needs to be rectified; they were voices that sought to mend fractures and secure our seams, not unravel them.

Something good happened to us as a result. We were finally able to see clearly and to discern the outline of an “old order” which had directed and organized our society and our economy. We learned the power of this order and also realized that we have the power to change it. We understood that the “common force that swept the streets” can be translated into a variety of initiatives and social acts that could give power back to the people. We realized that we had embarked on a deep, ongoing process of “change”, one that touches all wakes of social life; one whose goal was to gradually change our politics, our economy and our society.

But somewhere during that summer of optimistic “social outpouring”, we managed to lose sight of other darker, more extreme trends that were growing around the social edges and then slowly, but surely, penetrated its core.  Even while dark manifestations of sectarianism, hostility, violence, racism and unjustified hatred were secretly rearing their heads, still there was hope.

Then came “Operation Protective Edge”, and everything quickly changed. Hope was replaced by despair. The fragile fabric, so meticulously woven to connect groups and individuals around new and creative ideas, evaporated with the click of a keyboard. Friends and acquaintances who had met and organized into social networks for social justice now found themselves on opposing sides of the issue of the war, casting words at one another, sharper than poisonous arrows.

“Operation Protective Edge” is far from over but one thing is already very clear: we have a lot to fix – socially, civically, democratically; the seams we have been repairing in recent years will need to be re-stitched, having been ripped apart by the hostilities. This time we will have to do it differently – we will be more determined and will include many more groups and partners. Our rehabilitation also needs to become the top social project of the government awaiting us after “Operation Protective Edge”.  Our national strength is there – and not in shelters and iron domes. Hope must once again conquer the “city square”. 

The writer is Tomer Lotan- CEO of The Citizen's Empowerment Center in Israel (CECI).