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Israel is beginning to celebrate a new independence

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The mass protest rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday was a huge success, but the great test is still ahead of the protesters and of Israel.

By Gideon Levy

(source: Haaretz)

Tel Aviv was bursting at the seams on Saturday night. It was not the mother of all protests – it was the grandmother of all protests. The city looked like one of the stormiest cities on earth. Streams of people were flowing in every direction, some on foot, some in cars. Buses and trains spewed out the crowds, and not everyone even managed to get to the area of the protest. An amazingly large sign, in Hebrew and Arabic – the latter faces a threat to its status as an official language in this country – read “Egypt is here.”

Indeed, the pictures last night looked like the nights of Tahrir Square. Now the comparison to the Cairo revolution is not exaggerated or wishful thinking. Now it really does resemble it, not including the violence, of course.

And really, when size talks, as it did on Saturday night, violence is not needed. A regime that remains impassive to such gigantic rallies would be completely insensitive, and in any case is destined to fall.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can go on joking with his ministers; his fate is sealed. The cynics can continue tsk-tsking and talking about the “confused” and “spoiled” protest, and yet, a protest it is, the likes of which has never been seen here.

Yesterday Israel celebrated its independence. That’s the way Independence Eve looked in our childhood. That’s the way independence looks when a people becomes free, when it wakes up from its winter and summer hibernation. After all the years of being dammed up the flood hascome. Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke of a tsunami come September? The tsunami is already here. It has flooded in from the least expected place. The sensor towers and the radar at the Kirya, the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, which see everything, at whose foot the masses gathered, could not predict this wave.

The masses were gathered near one of the symbols of the state, the Kirya. This is where a small group of people stood during the accursed nights of the Second Lebanon War and the first Operation Cast Lead, holding torches, and no one paid attention. Yesterday, you couldn’t makea path through the crowds. At the gates of the Kirya, to which most of the state budget is allocated, far beyond its needs, the crowd shouted: “The people want social justice.”

True, the call was no longer directed at the Kirya, as it should have been. The masses are not yet besieging its iron gates. But perhaps that too will come. Meanwhile, this huge mass is threatening not only Netanyahu’s government, but, ironically, the protest itself.

Can such a mass be united around clear goals? Will the people who came to listen to Yehudit Ravitz, Rita and Shlomo Artzi still be a subversivefighting force? On Saturday, the anger and the enthusiasm that were thehallmark of the first protests made way for a festive atmosphere. An Israel festival, a city carnival. One woman, who said she was a Lieberman supporter, said she had come to see the miracle of Israel unified.

Perhaps that is the self-confidence of the protest, that it no longer needs anger. Perhaps that is a harbinger. But all the speakers, including an Orthodox rabbi, a retired Black Panther and an Arab intellectual, were clear: The music has got to change.

But last night most of the speakers, surprisingly, were careful to respect the prime minister. Perhaps the size frightened them. Perhaps itwas the sight of the cage in Cairo and perhaps the fear of a return to the left-right camps in Israeli society, and the desire to embrace it all. That might finish them off; this might end in tears. But no one argues with success. And Saturday was a huge success. And yet, the greattest is still ahead of them, still ahead of us.