When the Israeli Black Panthers organization began its struggle in the early 1970s, they were rejected by state leaders as hooligans; then-Prime Minister Golda Meir famously called them “not nice people.”
Now, one of the Israeli Black Panthers' founders is getting official recognition. The city of Jerusalem has decided to name a street for the late Saadia Marciano, one of the original “Black Panthers” who went on to decades of political and social activism and a brief stint in Knesset.
Marciano was born in Morocco and grew up in the Musrara (Morasha) neighborhood of Jerusalem in the 1950s. At the time, the neighborhood was an impoverished area crowded with new immigrants from Arab countries who had nowhere else to go. It was also on the seam between Israeli Jerusalem and the Jordanian-held eastern half of the city, and as such, was a frequent target of Jordanian attacks.
In 1970, Marciano and several friends living in Musrara, who had been inspired by the Black Panthers movement in the United States, began the Israeli Black Panthers movement. Like its American counterpart, the movement fought for racial equality and social justice, and was controversial for its forceful tactics.
The Israeli Black Panthers’ more controversial tactics included stealing milk from well-off Jerusalem neighborhoods to distribute in poor, Mizrahi-Jewish areas, and violent, unauthorized protests that sometimes ended in injury.
The movement quickly gained popularity in other poor, predominantly Middle Eastern Jewish areas, and led to government investigations into social inequality and discrimination against Jews of Middle Eastern origin.
In the mid-1970s the “Panthers” largely moved into more mainstream politics and social activism. Marciano served in Knesset as a member of the short-lived left-wing Sheli party. Over the next few decades he continued his political and social activism; among other things, he established the Zoharim center to treat drug addicts, assisted struggling low-income families, and organized protests over various social and economic issues.
Saadia Marciano died in December 2007 at the age of 58. He had suffered economic woes, as well as health problems, in the years before his death.
Following his death, Member of Knesset Yitzchak Galanti reported that Marciano, then gravely ill, had met with him just two weeks earlier to discuss plans to assist needy Jerusalem residents with the costs of food and heating.