Israel millennials express grassroots oppositionAre we talking lockdown fatigue or Netanyahu fatigue?
"It’s not a protest, but it’s still political: young people that want to have fun. We need to see happy people," Gaya Cohen, one of the organisers of FIT TLV says. These days what began as a fairly sizeable rolling marathon has become a small festival, taking place in violation of coronavirus regulations. Around a thousand people attended the last gathering of the year in December, accompanied by blasting sounds from Tel Aviv’s party scene.
It all began as a vision for a collective marathon during the country’s second lockdown in September 2020 on RoshHaShana, the Jewish new year. While the Israeli authorities rushed to enforce another stay-at-home order in the face of rising COVID-19 case numbers, life in Tel Aviv once again became restricted, businesses which had survived the first lockdown went bankrupt, and social connections were reduced to a minimum.
With individual sports still being allowed, a loophole opened for many eager to meet outside, inducing hundreds of young Tel Avivians to take their dusty, never used surfboards to the beach, to bike, skate or start stretching – in clear view of the police.
An explosion of thirst
"People are thirsty to connect with each other, and this is the only way we can do it right now," Gaya tells me in a phone call. It started as a collective marathon, but as it grew, it became an explosion of thirst.
Tel Aviv Friday bike critical mass! Full energy, the best party in town!@fit tlv pic.twitter.com/EGzjJZyHGh
— Yuval Shtalrid (@yuvalion12) December 12, 2020
The more people came, the thirstier they were, and the marathon – the basic concept of which was to be together, but individually – rapidly crossed the line between the permitted and the forbidden, the responsible and the irresponsible, morally correct and morally incorrect behaviour during a pandemic.
Watching the videos on Instagram, I had mixed feelings, somewhere between fomo (fear of missing out) and fear – of the next wave, the next mutated virus strain, the next lockdown. Who wouldn’t like to party now? When I showed the videos to friends in Germany, they reacted with concern, judging, drawing parallels with the right-wing anti-coronavirus protests in Germany.
Two weeks after our phone call, Israel entered its third nationwide lockdown. Just two days after the last FIT of the year, which made headlines nationwide: "As if there was no corona: Crowds at a party in Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv", the newsportal mako headlined.
"Basically, this is a protest in itself that shows that we need to see people’s faces, we need to see people smiling, we need to dance together. We are cycling for our souls!" says Gaya. FIT's "protest" seemed to resonate, receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback and continuing to grow, regardless, from week to week.