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The Screwed Up Generation Comes of Age

October 3, 2012 – 8:08 pmOne Comment

Translation: Want to change? Yes!

By Janine Schloss
In 1993, Israeli artist Aviv Geffen first asked his audience whether they wanted change. This was to become a regular cry out during his many concerts to the so-called Moonlight Children; the youth who had lost their way. They were the crazy, freakish, alternative kids who chose not to walk down the same path as the rest of the nation but rather to follow the light of the moon dreamily, in the hope that it would lead them out of despair. As they answered in unison, ‘Yes’ (we do want change), their screams seemed to fall on deaf ears. They were the marginalised rebels who wanted peace, believed in love and protested against violence. They wanted to imagine a ‘dream, without race or nationality.’ Thus the Screwed Up Generation was declared, and Geffen led the way.

As years went by, Geffen’s radical mascara slowly faded, yet his fans kept singing along to his words, which struck chords that politicians could not reach. His music started seeping into the mainstream, but he still shouted for change at all of his concerts.

When Geffen visited the first protest tents of 2011, he brought his guitar along. A grown-up version of his former self but his words had not aged at all; there they were, louder than ever. Could Geffen still be the symbol of peace and hope that he once was? Was this his generation, once screwed up but now starting to make sense, or were they simply repeating words that had been on auto play since the 90s?

Today, in 2012, a year since the initial tent protests, it doesn’t matter that the tents are not physically there.  It does not matter that they have been told to stay away because they can no longer be hidden or ignored. From our distant view here in Australia, it looks as if the seams – now stretched to capacity – may tear at any moment. ‘Do You Want Change?’ has managed to transcend the song, into the collective psyche of Israelis. While Geffen’s words used to point at divisions, they now seem to signify a peculiar unification between young, old, religious, secular, liberal and right wing.

Yet there are many more questions than answers. How can it be that the Haredi women stand together with left wing activists, in front of everyday school students, next to working parents, behind religious men –  and everyone is calling for change? Those words belonged to the mad rebels for so long, yet now they overwhelm the streets with a chilling sense of urgency. Will this movement towards awareness of social injustice unite the nation – Israelis, Arabs, Jews, Palestinians, women, men, children, elderly, Holocaust survivors, the sick … where does the list end? Can everyone fit inside the tent?

Geffen started making music for the so-called masses in the early 2000s. Now his politics and ideology are also not as alternative as they once seemed.  ‘Do You Want Change?’ has become the war cry for the social justice protesters in Israel, together with ‘The Nation Demands Social Justice’.  But how can the words really make a difference; how can they become more than just chants of protest?

Since 1972, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has endeavoured to voice the rights of Israelis across the spectrum, regardless of location, religious or political alliance.  With the birth (or rebirth) of the Social Justice movement in Israel, the span of civil rights issues has been overwhelming and the task of ensuring everyone gets heard is enormous.  During this significant time of long-awaited change in Israel ACRI has been at the forefront of the Social Justice movement protests. Instead of asking, ‘Do You Want Change,’ ACRI goes further and asks the protester, ‘What Happened to Us, How did we lose our way, How did we stray so far? We, who have wanted change for so long; how did we let this happen to our country?’

All of a sudden, everyone wants change and the cracks are slowly beginning to let the light in. ACRI is one of many but by far the largest and most established human rights organisations operating in Israel today.  Working in areas as diverse as the education of Palestinian children, gender equality, asylum seekers, anti-democratic legislation, LGBT rights, and more, ACRI has really been making meaningful change for decades while others have either been singing about it or blocking their ears to the music.  In essence they have been scaffolding the tent so that it accommodates as many protesters as possible. The time is ripe and the people are ready but they can only repeat ‘Do You Want Change?’ and ‘The Nation Demands Social Justice!’ for so long, until the words become numb.

Now the matured Screwed Up Generation face the shoulder of a hardened enemy parent. The grown up rebels must now do more than sing. Because if they don’t, their children will still be asking the same questions for years to come.  And while many more are realising how screwed up things are, just as Geffen said they were all those years ago, it is organisations such as ACRI that will lead the way forward out of the tents. There’s still a long way to go.

Hagai El-Ad, executive director of ACRI, will be visiting Australia in October as guest of honour for The New Israel Fund (NIF) Foundation. For details, click here.

Janine Schloss is a member of the NIF and based in Melbourne.

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