Black Panthers Prowl Again in Jerusalem

Inspired by Americans, Social Justice Movement Thrives in Israel

Street Art: Inspired by the Israeli Black Panthers, the Muslala collective creates political art in Jerusalem.
Courtesy Muslala
Street Art: Inspired by the Israeli Black Panthers, the Muslala collective creates political art in Jerusalem.

By Margaret Eby

Published November 27, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Muslala has also sponsored neighborhood events to introduce the remaining members of the Panthers to newer residents of the neighborhood, including the ultra-Orthodox community that has grown to the west and the artists and foreigners who have been driving up home prices. Other artists have also made works commemorating the Panthers. At a gallery attached to the Musrara Institute of Art, artist Avi Sabag produced a series of animated films based on interviews with the active Panthers. In one installment, a Moroccan man named Moshe Amoyal spoke about being thrown into jail as a 9-year-old for stealing tiles. His time in the institution convinced him of the inherent prejudice against Mizrahi Jews like him, and led to his involvement with the Panthers. “Who could have touched a 9-year-old boy like that?” Amoyal asks in the film. “To ruin his life for a few tiles?”

Founded in 1971 in tribute to the American group of the same name, the Israeli Black Panthers had a brief period of relevance in Israeli politics. They fought for the ignored populations of Jerusalem: Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. Many Panthers were sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, viewing Palestinians as a fellow oppressed minority of their home country. The Jerusalem that produced the group was a shaky one, still grappling with changing borders after 1967. Musrara was the cradle of the movement. Though it had originally been a wealthy Jewish neighborhood, the war of 1948 transformed it into an abandoned war zone. Desperately poor Mizrahi Jews from North Africa settled into the deserted houses, often living mere feet from the Jordanian border. With the unification of the city under Israeli rule, the government’s preferential treatment of Ashkenazi Jews became obvious to those in Musrara.

The Black Panthers formed as a militant answer to the problem of social inequality, staging demonstrations without police permission and distributing milk to the poor. In one clash with the police in Zion Square big enough to spur the famous meeting with Prime Minister Meir, 74 demonstrators were arrested and another 20 hospitalized. Koko Deri, the Panther leader who has been working with Muslala, remembers the time as one of great turmoil. “It used to be just like South Africa here,” he said. “Everything was organized to keep the whites in power. There was a lot of racism and hatred and inequality. We educated people about the inequality in this country and because of that we gave Mizrahim at the bottom of society a chance.“

But the Yom Kippur War in 1973 drew the state’s focus away from internal affairs, and the Panthers faded into a marginal group. Some members entered politics with little success. Starry-eyed activists have tried, unsuccessfully, to resurrect the Panthers in Israel several times since the 1970s. Many Israeli artists like Matan Israeli hope to prevent the Panthers from fading into a footnote in the history books. “It’s important for the Panthers to get credit for their work while they’re still alive,” Israeli said. “It’s an act of protest.”

This summer, Muslala joined with the Israeli Department of Culture to present a program titled “Between Green and Red,” a resurrection of the watermelon stands that the Panthers used as meeting places and open salons during the 1970s. The original stands, “basta” in Arabic, sold cups of wickedly strong Arabic coffee and slices of thirst-quenching melon to Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews and Arabs alike, and became impromptu neighborhood hangouts. Basta connected the separate factions of the Musrara neighborhood, and Israeli hoped that the magic could be recreated. The group brought in musicians for nightly concerts, and held Q-and-A sessions with Koko Deri and other Panther leaders.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.