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Israel's social protests are anything but dead

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The smothering trap that successive Israeli governments have put us in for the past 40 years no longer allows us to breathe. A welfare state is one that strives for genuine peace and achieves it.

The day after Thursday's terror attacks, the media rushed to declare the end of the protest movement due to the security-political agenda that would now take over. As if nothing had happened, as though Israelis had not taken to the streets en masse in order to bring about change. To the media and, of course, to the government, it is as though nothing had changed, as though they would once again set the agenda. They - the government and the media - would remind us of what is really urgent and important.

That is the greatest threat we face. Not the security situation, but the usual thing - more of the same. That regular, completely automatic Israeli drill, mantra-like, as if hypnotized. Emergency meetings of the inner cabinet and the forum of eight senior ministers, the IDF attacks, the IDF kills, demands for an apology, demands for an investigation, funerals, injured, eyewitnesses. Whichever prime minister says for the who-knows-how-many time, "When Israeli civilians are hurt, we respond swiftly and strongly." Some defense minister or other says: "We will strike them decisively and with full force." Some head of the opposition or other says, "This demands action from Israel, we will support the government's actions." More and more of the same thing, repeating itself over and over again, trapping us on an endless merry-go-round, with no way out.

This dead end is one of the main reasons for the great and unprecedented protest movement that is taking place. Even if the word "occupation" is not uttered, even if no one speaks of a Palestinian state, the smothering trap that successive Israeli governments have put us in for the past 40 years no longer allows us to breathe. There is a sense of hopelessness and pointlessness stemming from the knowledge that everything is the same, and only the citizens' situation declines from day to day. There's nothing to look forward to, no prospect for something else in sight.

It is always astonishing to realize that, save the brief episode of the Rabin administration, no government took any step to change Israel's fundamental situation, in terms of security and policy in the region. No government proposed a solution or responded to an offered proposal. In keeping with that, no prime minister gave us hope, none offered a vision of a better life in Israel.

Everyone warned of myriad threats to the state's existence, but no one can think of a different reality. No one drew a vision of peace with the neighboring states; of good neighborly relations and partnerships that lead to fantastic economic growth, an enriching cultural mix and even military cooperation. Yes, yes. Just imagine Israel living in peace with Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, with all of them forming a NATO-like alliance, a Middle Eastern Treaty Organization, and together fighting the radical Islamic organizations that threaten us all.

Sounds delusional, utopian, impossible? The truth is that it's not that far off from acceptance of the Arab peace initiative, which includes the normalization by all Arab states of relations with Israel, the creation of a friendly Palestinian state and a peace treaty with Syria. For years, all of these were within reach, and some still are. Add to them the desire to live in peace and with cooperation, and the imaginary picture could be very realistic.

In order to realize such a vision, our politicians must see it. Prof. Dan Ariely, author of "Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions," explains that the brain creates an expectation that is then fulfilled by reality, regardless of the actual reality. For years we have been captives to an expectation of threat and war, which we respond to militantly. Over the years, this vicious cycle has grown increasingly shorter from incident to incident, becoming increasingly destructive to Israeli society and to the state.

The great social protest broke that pattern. The public does not want it any more. It has begun to sketch a new picture of the world. The protest demands a new agenda, one which refuses the axiom that militarism and aggressiveness should be at the top. This agenda also includes a new way of thinking in the world of regional policy. A welfare state is one that does not force its citizens to live under the threat of war and annihilation; a welfare state is one that strives for genuine peace and achieves it. And the demand for such a state is not going away.


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