What is blue and white and orange all over? Give up? It’s a young Israeli child draped with an Israeli flag for a cape with an orange headband. This is the new symbol of Israeli activism – young people showing Zionist patriotic pride in conjunction with solidarity for the people of Gush Katif (this wasn’t the kind of activism we did in Habonim!). There is a new definition of activism in Israel and it’s pretty fascinating and while it may not jive with Labor Zionist values, it touches the heart and leaves the left wing activist scratching their head.
Gush Katif activism has taken over the Holy City. Maybe it just feels that way because I have lived in Jerusalem all year and haven’t seen a good left wing rally since the pro-Gaza pullout rally at the Knesset in October 04. (That was the last time I saw Habonim’s Workshop (54) in Jerusalem). Or maybe it feels like that because the defining color of Jerusalem has ceased to be the golden glare produced by the Jerusalem stone and is now bright Orange. Orange is everywhere. In anticipation for the “hitnatkut” (disengagement) this summer, progressives have all but been eliminated from the streets of Jerusalem. World [Gay] Pride was postponed for a year and I haven’t seen a Shalom Achshav T-shirt in months. Only orange t-shirts and flags. The most conspicuous are the orange armbands seemingly hanging off every other car, taxi, schoolbag and mirpeset (porch). Orange warriors have laid siege to the city of Jerusalem.
Where do you see the orange slivers of cloth? Everywhere. In every public place. On pocketbooks and cars, hanging off radio antennas and side-view mirrors and rear-view mirrors. Orange is used to tie back the hair of teenagers and as fashionable neckwear. If you were to go to any fabric store in Jerusalem, you would probably be hard pressed to find any bright orange cloth. Being in Jerusalem is like being at the Syracuse Carrier dome the day after they won the final four. It’s a different reality. People are not just supporting Gush Katif; they are psyched about supporting Gush Katif. It’s like each person has told his or her 10 best friends to wear orange and it’s caught on like wild fire. None of my liberal friends can wear any of their orange clothes anymore. The color orange has been completely appropriated.
Case in point: Even some Jerusalem Palestinian cab drivers have been seen with orange on their cabs so that potential passengers will not question their loyalty to the state. Remember the yellow ribbons, which meant ?support the troops?, across America prior to the first Gulf War? In many places in Israel, Orange is no longer just about Gush Katif, orange is patriotic. Hence the symbiotic imagery of the Israeli flag coming together with the orange ribbon.
But it’s not just about the orange. Gush Katif activism is using a multi-pronged approach and its very effective. Left wingers, take note. They have the best stickers, the best slogans and it’s not just the content of the slogans, but the spirit behind the slogans. Gush Katif activism doesn?t use anger as a tactic, rather they appeal to the heart and conscience of the Israeli public. Perhaps they count on a bit of ignorance too. But in an era of hate tactics and blame propaganda, there is something surprisingly refreshing about this type of activism. No one is demonized. The emphasis has been on Jewish unity, something often lacking in the Israeli culture. “Gam Ani Mitchaber” (I am also connected) printed on bumper stickers and T-shirts, emphasizes the interconnectedness of all Jews (and that we are connected to the Jews who will be removed from their homes this summer in Gaza). Another sticker re-appropriated the words of Arik Einstein?s song, “Yesh Lanu Ahava, V’he, Tenatzeach.” (We have love and she will win). The slogans are meant to appeal to our humanity and stir the conscience of anyone who supports the Jewish people. These slogans are much more heart-warming than the left wing slogans which more or less tell us to, “get the hell out of Gaza.” Unfortunately, in the propaganda war for Gush Katif, facts and Palestinian human rights don?t appear to be a part of the discourse. “For the sake of Israel, get out of Gaza” is the primary left wing slogan. Appealing to Palestinian humanity as a method of reaching the Israeli conscience, after 4 years of a brutal intifada, isn’t likely to be too effective.
More impressive still is the mobilization of a broad coalition. Gush Katif supporters range in age and culture more than any other activists I have seen in a long time. It’s not simply the religious. I’ve seen men without kipot passing out the orange strips. Ethiopians are wearing orange, women soldiers, old ladies on the bus, Mizrachim, Arsim, you name it. It appears that the appeal to Gush Katif cuts across all boundaries of race, class, and religious observance. But the most impressive demographic is the youth. In Jerusalem it’s the young who are standing on the street corner selling the orange T-shirts. They stand at the entrance to Jerusalem during traffic jams with garbage bags full of orange cloth. It’s the young school children with orange strips hanging off their schoolbags that make me turn and stare.
Gush Katif activism was most striking for me during this year?s Yom Yerushalayim celebrations. They should have renamed the day Yom Katif. Thousands of youth dressed in white packed the center of Jerusalem. The Gush Katif folks were ready at Kikar Tzion with all their regalia. Almost every Israeli flag being waved had an orange strip sewn on or tied to the flagpole. People were dancing as the music was blasting. It was a sea of orange and white in an unparalleled display of love for Jerusalem.
I won?t deny it. I was moved. I love Jerusalem and I felt left out. I have lived in Jerusalem for most of the past five years and have never felt more at home than I have in Jerusalem. There was an irresistible energy at this parade. As though wearing orange was a fuller expression of your love for Jerusalem. It wasn?t rational. I do not support keeping Gush Katif, but something deep inside me wanted to join the crowd and wear some orange. This made me realize that if a Habonim-grown Zionist like me can feel a strong pull to this Gush Katif energy the average Israeli youth must be even more compelled.
In some ways I am envious of the Gush Katif supporters. They are driven by a contagious energy. Plus they are the underdogs. Even thought they are in their most desperate hour, there is something very admirable about the conduct and impact of their efforts. I think the left should learn from the people wearing orange how to create a movement for social change. I sympathize with their activism: it is non-violent, positive, passionate, cross-generational, and cross cultural. And it’s not just a Jerusalem movement. Okay, so maybe Tel Aviv isn’t orange yet, but many of the development towns and small Jewish villages are starting to Orangify themselves.
As a final note about Gush Katif?s sphere of influence in Jerusalem, orange has even dwarfed the Lubavitcher Rebbi’s “Melech Moshiach” posters. What would the Lubavitcher Rebbe have to say about Gush Katif? I am half expecting the next Moshiach poster to read, “Melech Moshaich Omer, Gam Ani Mitchaber” (King of the Messiah says, I am also connected).