We are clearly living in tumultuous times. Seven months on from Mohamed Bouazizi lighting himself -- and then the Middle East -- on fire, any claim that the Tunis ripple would lap the shores of Tel Aviv was, until very recently, met with a kneejerk dismissal and a rolling of the eyes.
Yet the seemingly spontaneous eruption of public anger in Israel has caused many to rethink things. People have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers, motivated by a whole host of quality of life issues that strike at the core of the social contract that many believe Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has violated.
I just hope the protestors don't end up missing the point, and squandering this unprecedented momentum by pointing it in the wrong direction. In the Middle East, far too many people too often confuse symptom with cause. They would do well to look to Egypt, and learn from the mistakes that their counterparts in Tahrir Square made in the initial phase of their protests. Mubarak, as Egyptians are learning now, was not the cause of Egypt's problems, more a particularly virulent symptom. At the height of their momentum and influence they directed their demands toward him, rather than the system that he presided over, a decision many of the activists now seem to regret.
The tangled web of military dominance in the politics and economy of Egypt, as well as chronic nepotism, elitism and lack of competitiveness, now looks a more difficult problem to solve than the ousting of one man from a presidential palace. The symptom has been removed, but the underlying sickness remains.
I would argue that the underlying, causal, issue for much of Israel's ills isn't housing policy, educational standards or the quality of public healthcare. It isn't even really the economic policies of this government or its predecessors, nor nebulous concepts around the deterioration of societal bonds.
These are all issues in their own right, with complicated factors feeding into them, but there is one common underlying illness that compounds these problems, augmenting their impact and rendering them chronic, rather than temporary ailments. The underlying malaise that is producing or worsening many of the symptoms currently bedevilling Israel's justifiably impatient youth is the occupation, and the socio-economic consequences that it produces in Israel, rather than those it produces in the occupied territories themselves.
Settlers get heavily subsidised transportation on settler-only roads, while residents living in Israel-proper endure an outdated public transportation system and traffic-clogged highways. Settlers enjoy subsidised and incentivised housing schemes in the West Bank, while young couples struggle to live within Israel itself. All in all, Israel has spent over $50 billion on settling and controlling the West Bank and Gaza. Considering that many of these homes are doomed to be destroyed or handed over in the advent of peace, this is a poor investment of public money and the wrong place to invest Israel's limited housing budget.
Equally, Israel has serious security concerns that justify a well-resourced military. But many now recognise that these security concerns are aggravated, not eased, by the continued presence of soldiers and settlers in land destined to form a Palestinian state. The resources needed to keep Israel secure are surely not best spent on controlling another population - a process that foments anger and resentment amongst Palestinians and the wider Arab and Muslim world, creating more insecurity for Israelis. Considering a substantial part of the security budget seems to arguably create insecurity, this too is a poor investment of public money and the wrong place to invest a large chunk of Israel's security budget.
An ultimate goal for Israel should be that the defence budget does not dwarf every other national priority ad infinitum, thereby proving that the country's existence and sustainability is finally secure, its status cemented. But so long as Israeli soldiers and settlers remain in the West Bank, that reality will never materialise.
Paradoxically, whilst the Palestinians are perhaps guilty of blaming too many of their society's ills on the occupation, Israelis recognise too few. They must acknowledge its cost on their lives and make a self-interested decision based on socio-economic priorities as much as all of the other well-known and deeply compelling arguments, and put an end to it once and for all.
Israel - for all its faults - is a democracy where people can take to the streets without fear of reprisal. Citizens can organise and mobilise to replace their government with one that looks after the best interests of the many, rather than the destructive agenda of the few. Most would prefer to see a light-rail system connect their cities, rather than another hulking settlement in the West Bank. Most would like to be able to comfortably bring up their families in the town that they were born in, rather than subsidising extreme ideologues to live far beyond Israel's border. Balancing a budget is all about priorities - you can't do everything you would like - and most Israelis on the streets right now seem to agree that the current government's priorities are catastrophically misplaced.
OneVoice Israel's youth leaders are out in Tel Aviv's Tent City, as well as protests across the country, making this case and urging young Israelis, some of whom are now finding their political voice for the first time, to think about these issues with depth and clarity. Opportunities such as those being created on the streets of Israel's cities do not come along very often. They must be seized by those with clarity of vision and unity of purpose to cure the illness rather than simply attempt to treat some of its symptoms.
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