Protests over housing costs sweep across Israel

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A 'tent city' protest in Tel Aviv.
Image: Itzuvit.
Placards and banners at the Tel Aviv tent city.
Image: Itzuvit.

Israelis have been gathering across the country to protest against the rising costs of housing, with "tent cities" being erected in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beersheba, Haifa, and Kiryat Shemona. On Saturday night tens of thousands marched from the encampment on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, which has been a focal point for the protestors, to the Tel Aviv Museum.

Rents in Tel Aviv are said to have risen by over 60 percent in four years. Buying costs have soared too, with estate agent Eli Melloul stating that the average price for an Israeli apartment has now reached 1 million shekels ($295,000). The demonstrators are urging the government to intervene and help reduce prices. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged swift action, including streamlining planning and building regulations, and constructing 6,000 housing units. However none of these units are set for Tel Aviv. Some are calling for him to resign over the issue, and several members of the Knesset also joined Saturday's march.

The protests have largely been composed of young people and students, organised using social media such as Facebook. They follow a recent Facebook campaign to boycott cottage cheese (a staple food in Israel), which succeeded in driving down prices. Elderly people have also begun to join the movement to show their solidarity.

Daphni Leef, credited with starting the protest movement, addressed the crowd at Tel Aviv Museum. "Under these conditions we will soon have no dreams", she said. "There is no time to dream when you're constantly looking to cover your rent. There's no time to dream when you're constantly looking to cover a mortgage."

She also blamed Netanyahu personally in her speech: "You, Bibi, with your wild policy and your irresponsibility, you pushed us into a nadir. You, Mr. Netanyahu, caused us – the Facebook generation – to head to the streets and protest."