On the evening of Sunday, May 12, more than a dozen local and international activistskneeled, blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs, in front of the ticketing entrance to the opening celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest, which Israel hosted this year.
The action commemorated the Palestinian victims of the Israeli occupation, kicking off a week of Eurovision festivities that drew thousands of fans and several hundred Jewish-Israeli and international activists who staged daily protests against Israel’s grave violations of Palestinian human rights for the past 70-plus years.
As swathes of activists carried out nonviolent marches and direct actions against Eurovision throughout the week, fans of the events enjoyed festive songs and dance with their loved ones.
During a demonstration outside Expo Tel Aviv during the contest finale on Saturday, May 18, passers-by—many of whom waved LGBTQ or Israeli flags—yelled, “Fuck you!” “Liars!” and “Jew haters!”
Unbeknownst to them, many of the activists are themselves Jewish. According to Danny Brodsky, a Jewish-Israeli student-activist who took part in a “Free Gaza” march through the streets of Tel Aviv during Eurovision week, Jewish values are deeply compatible with social justice and human rights.
“Judaism is a wonderful, beautiful tradition that is built around essentially humanist values of peace and justice,” he said. By contrast, “Zionism is a political concept that arose out of historical circumstances ... [and] evolved to being oppressive quite quickly.”
The “Free Gaza” march was aimed at drawing attention to the dire situation in the besieged enclave due to the Israeli blockade. In the first 12 months of “Great March of Return” protests along the Israel-Gaza boundary fence, where tens of thousands of Gazans stage nonviolent demonstrations against the occupation every Friday, Israeli forces killed 277 protesters, including children, paramedics, journalists and people with disabilities. The United Nations reported earlier this year that Israel could be guilty of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” for its violence against the demonstrators.
On Monday, May 13, activists staged another demonstration only metres from the shores of Tel Aviv in the Eurovision Village. At the sprawling fairground, they screened a video called “Dare to Dream,” whose title mimics the Eurovision 2019 slogan. As the video showed the wishes and desires of young Palestinians who hope to one day live freely, the activists were beaten by Eurovision fans and one of their phones was taken, Shahaf Weisbein, a Jewish-Israeli activist involved in the demonstration, said.
The crowd’s reaction to the anti-occupation protests revealed that Israeli society is deeply entrenched in violence, Weisbein said. Additionally, “the responses we got from the crowd and the majority of people that are Israeli was kind of ... proof of why exactly we’re doing what we’re doing.”
She explained that the crowd’s behaviour demonstrates that Israel is not a democratic state, but “an apartheid state.”
“The terror we encountered on the streets just seeing our actions, this is not something that happens in a state of democracy in which freedom of speech is respected and opinions are able to be expressed without the fear of being attacked,” she said.
Tanya Rubinstein, a queer Jewish-Israeli activist who helped organise the “Free Gaza” march, told Palestine Monitor that violence against Israeli anti-occupation protesters has increased in the past five years and that such activists are now “surprised” when they are not threatened or harmed during anti-occupation demonstrations.
According to her, Israeli anti-occupation activists are always aware of the risk of getting attacked for publicly opposing the occupation, and that violence against them is legitimised by the state. “It is really normalised and encouraged by Knesset members, by politicians, by journalists—even [by] parts of the left-wing.”
Agitating for change
On Monday, May 13, Israeli activists associated with De-Colonizer, an Israeli anti-occupation group, walked along the grounds of the Eurovision Village speaking with concert-goers about the hidden realities of the occupation. They handed out informational pamphlets about the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe), which coincided with the establishment of the state of Israel and permanently expelled roughly 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.
Only two days later, on the 71st anniversary of the Nakba, some 10,000 Gazan protesters mobilised along the Israel-Gaza border in commemoration of the event. As the eyes of the Western world were on Eurovision, Israeli forces fired on demonstrators with live rounds and rubber-coated steel bullets, resulting in at least 47 casualties, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.
“This Eurovision Village,” the De-Colonizer pamphlet reads, “is built on the city of Jaffa, on what is really Al-Manshiyya, a once-Palestinian neighbourhood with 13,000 residents, until colonized in April 1948 by Etzel. ... There is no acknowledgement of its history today.
“Israeli culture has relied on a singular narrative, ignoring the 750,000 Palestinian refugees from the Nakba and 'pink-washes’ Israel into a seemingly tolerant, pluralistic, and LGBTQ-friendly state,” the flyer added.
Today, there are some 5.2 million Palestinian refugees, according to Amnesty International, most of whom live in the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Eitan Bronstein, a co-founder of De-Colonizer, said only one person at the Eurovision Village out of the roughly 200 they spoke to in a single evening knew about the history of Al-Manshiyya.
“For me, it’s a bit shocking and surprising, but if you think about it logically, how could they know? ... Most of the people—not just the Israelis, but all over the world—they don’t really care. ... This information about the Nakba and all the destroyed Palestinian localities in Israel ... it’s not systematically pushed,” Bronstein said.
The systematic lack of information about the Israeli occupation, together with the violence against Jewish-Israeli activists agitating for the state to end its “apartheid,” has a stifling effect on free speech in Israel—and it also creates an all-consuming, self-perpetuating socio-political system that naturally resists change. Despite this fact, the activists that spoke to Palestine Monitor expressed hope for the future.
Brodsky, the student-activist, said that although there is some “cynicism” and “despair” among Israeli anti-occupation activists, they will never stop agitating for an end to the occupation and for peace.
“We do things because they’re the right things to do, not because ... this or that was achieved. We do things because we see a need . ... Isn’t that what humanity is about? It’s about hope, never losing hope.
“Hell yes I’m hopeful, but not because I think the occupation is going to end tomorrow. ... People continue to do the right thing however awful everything around them is. That’s what hope is: It’s not thinking that tomorrow will be good necessarily, but acting as if it will be.”