Sunday, 4 September 2011

A flavour of Kikar Hamedina, Tel Aviv - a demo

It was one of those evenings in Tel Aviv that only Londoners can dream of. Hot, sultry and sweaty but an aroma of lavender and wild thyme, aftershave and perfume hung on a gentle breeze. The moon, at one third, shone brightly, as the moon does, and the helicopters above circled the square, obliterating from time to time the stars and gleaming satellites.

They say that there were about 400,000 people there. I tried to establish some kind of arithmetical modus of counting - Pompey, the Emirates, Wembley. Initially it was maybe one or two Wemblies. I guess it was more. As I stood at the corner of the square and Jabotinsky Street, wave upon wave of demonstrators arrived en masse, singing, chanting, playing drums, shouting slogans, while others in the crowd surrounding me clapped and wooped and waved their arms at them. There was an amazing feeling of oneness when entire groups arrived with their banners and matching t-shirts. I suppose that it must have felt like this during the Russian Revolution, before the Cossaks arrived. Of course no Cossaks were expected last night, although I was somewhat concerned that some idiot could have planted a bomb or decided to camouflage himself as one of the people. But that didn't happen. Fortunately.

How do you compare a demonstration like this to anything in the UK or Greece or France, when the 'populace' as it were, are agitating? Not one window smashed. Not one mugging or knifing or any kind of looting. No arson. No 'kettling.' In fact very little police presence, apart from those who were checking for bombs hidden among the undergrowth or behind lamposts or bicycles that were chained up to the railings surrounding the flowers and bushes. There was the occasional police car and I looked up above the flats, to the roofs, searching for the odd police sniper but couldn't see anything that resembled this kind of activity. Some of the police carried green fluorescent flashlights - but then so did the kids and adults.

The meeting was being held in possibly the best part of Tel Aviv - a comparison would be Knightsbridge in London. All the shops were there; Gucci and YSL, Prada and Ralph Lauren, even Zadig and Voltaire. It had closed down in Hampstead but was obviously doing better here. None of the stores had been shuttered for the event. There were no cameras to catch any kind of miscreant because, generally, there are none. Such is liberty.

It was a meeting of babies and buggies and balloons and young couples on bikes and the middle-aged with tummies and men with grey pony tails and women, tanned and svelt, holding expensive leather handbags and I-phones and I-Pads. This is Israel, after all! Dogs of all shapes and sizes and picnic baskets and music in the square, a la Glastonbury or Woodstock. Israeli hip-hop competing with simply amazing drums and cymbals from the crowd who were jumping and jiving and simply enjoying the whole beat. A little boy in a Rooney t-shirt and an older man sporting 'Have Another Beer.' It was truly good natured and, notwithstanding that it was a demonstration against discrepancies in wages, entrepreneurs were there selling their bottled water and beigeleh and the ubiquitous ice cream seller, 'Hello, Artic, mishmish, chocolate!' Portaloos dotted the roads leading up the square where people waited in line and queues were forming at ATMs. I wondered why. What was there to spend at a demo?

So many banners, cardboard signs, slogans and so many agendas. Gilad Shalit featured prominently. TV journalists and young women with the latest digital cameras slung around their shoulders, hanging from branches in young trees, trying to get the best shot.

Will it make a difference? There are about 7 million Israelis. 400,000 crowded into a square in Tel Aviv last night. The government has established a committee to address their concerns. There's no more that can be done. This was the crux of their agenda. Let's hope that the tents and general debris that has been left behind over this hot summer can now be cleared up and life can continue.

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