Israelis set up tent cities as protests over high house prices and rents spread across the country
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Pastor Dale Morgan
Jul 22, 2011, 6:08:35 PM7/22/11
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Israelis set up tent cities as protests over high house
prices and rents spread across the country
* Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
* guardian.co.uk, Friday 22 July 2011 15.54 BST
Israeli demonstrators set up a tent camp in the centre of the
coastal city of Ashdod to protest against the rising cost of
Tent protest villages have sprung up across Israel over the past
week to demand action on house prices and rents, attracting large
numbers of young workers and students, huge media attention and
the panic of politicians beginning to feel the heat of people
The centre of the nationwide protest is Rothschild Boulevard, a
coveted and affluent avenue in Tel Aviv, whose central pedestrian
pathway is now littered with hundreds of small pop-up tents,
posters, battered furniture and people strumming guitars and
debating into the night.
The protest movement has spread to cities and towns across the
country, including Jerusalem and the desert city of Beer Sheva.
The citizens of the tent villages, along with their many
supporters, are expected to join a big rally on Saturday night
that, according to Daphni Leif, who initiated the protest on
Facebook, will "make the upper echelon shake".
Sitting on a discarded car seat under a makeshift awning close to
the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, Nadav, 28, said rents had
increased by around 50% in the past few years. "We are earning
less and paying more, and we want a solution that allows us to
live in a reasonable place at an affordable price," he said.
A student at Hebrew University with a part-time job, Nadav said
one of the reasons for Jerusalem's high prices was 12,000 "ghost
apartments" owned by wealthy Jews who visit for "a month or a
month and half, tops, each year. Every apartment they buy pushes
up prices for everyone."
Taly Spiegel, 27, said she and her boyfriend had been looking for
an apartment to rent for two months but could not find anything
they could afford. A third of her income from her job in an
environmental consultancy would have to go on rent.
Any solution to the housing crisis would take five or 10 years to
have an impact, she said. When would she be able to buy an
apartment? "Not in the next 10 years," she said. "That's very
optimistic," said Nadav.
The Facebook-driven tent villages across Israel have echoes of the
pro-democracy movements across the Middle East, but Nadav was
quick to point out important differences. "This is a middle-class
protest, focused on one issue. People in Egypt didn't have a lot
to lose. They had no civil rights and no trust in their
government." But, he added, "I've kind of lost my trust in my
government too because it doesn't serve my needs."
The Israeli government is alarmed at the spread of the protests
and how the issue has united left and right, religious and
secular, and the middle-class with their less-affluent fellow
The housing protest swiftly followed a widespread consumer boycott
of cottage cheese in protest at the high cost of dairy products.
Dairy companies were forced to cut prices, and the government
initiated a review of the industry.
The prime minister has this week promised swift action to relieve
the housing crisis and has held late-night meetings with cabinet
colleagues to consider possible measures. The housing ministry
promised to issue tenders for the construction of 6,000 new
housing units – but none in Tel Aviv, and many in West Bank
The Israeli media has devoted large amounts of space and airtime
to both the housing and cottage cheese protests, along with a
long-running labour dispute by doctors over pay. Domestic issues
such as these are more likely to sink Netanyahu's coalition than
progress, or lack of it, in resolving the conflict with the
Palestinians, say some commentators.
At the Jerusalem tent village, a hand-written poster advertised
music sessions, discussion groups and demonstrations. On Friday
protesters carried sofas and chairs to one of the city's main
streets for a traffic-blocking sit-in.
A group of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who face huge housing pressures
due to the large size of their families, pitched a tent alongside
the core of students and young workers.
How long did they plan to stay? Nadav paused before answering. "As
long as it takes," he said eventually.