Estimated 70,000 attend periphery social justice protests

By
August 14, 2011 00:29

Organizers bypass TA, J'lem to "let the rest of the voices speak"; over 20,000 rally in Haifa; spokesman: Smaller numbers not sign of failure.

4 minute read.



Beersheba Protest 311. (photo credit:Ben Hartman)

An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Israelis took part in a series of demonstrations held across the country on Saturday night, as part of the social issues movement that has gripped the nation over the past month.

Unlike the previous three weeks, protest leaders decided not to hold a mass protest in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, and to instead hold demonstrations in 18 other cities.

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The largest was in Haifa, with well over 20,000 participants. Other cities that took part included Netanya, Beersheba, Afula, Beit She’an, Modi’in, Dimona, Eilat, Petah Tikva, Hod Hasharon and Ramat Hasharon.

Organizers said the decision to hold the protests solely outside the two main metropolitan areas was intended to send the message that the movement deals with problems affecting the entire country.

A week ago, more than 300,000 people took to the streets across the country, including an estimated 250,000 plus in Tel Aviv.

Beersheba’s protest had been expected to be the largest of Saturday’s events, but it only attracted an estimated 10,000 people. “The Negev wants social justice” and “Who’s coming? The welfare state!” they chanted.

Uri Keidar, head of the student union at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told the crowd in Beersheba that the night’s protests were further proof that “the public has woken up in recent weeks. From Kiryat Shmona to Eilat, from Right to Left, we have launched the largest social protest in the history of the country. We all hear about the Israeli apathy, of muted citizens, detached students and tired young people, but we Israelis, the working people, the ones who serve in the [IDF] reserves, the salt of the earth, have awoken and said enough, we want a future in Israel.”

Keidar continued, “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, it wasn’t only your government that led to this situation, it was many earlier ones from the Left and the Right... Prime minister, the people have woken up on your watch and you will be the one to bring the solutions.”

Though the turnout for Saturday’s protests was far smaller than a week ago, Roee Neumann, the spokesman for the tent-city protest movement, said the smaller numbers were not a sign of failure for the movement.

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In Beersheba, checking the numbers from the country’s other protests, he said, “The turnout is more or less what we figured. Even if there were only five people here, we would have been pleased. The point was that there was too much of a concentration of the movement in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and many of the problems facing the country are not only in those cities, but all over Israel, so we decided that we would shut our mouths [in Tel Aviv] and let the rest of the voices speak.”

In Ramat Hasharon, over 2,000 people gathered outside city hall as part of the nation-wide rallies.

Entire families spanning several generations turned out to join in the demonstration in the city's Kikar Hamoetza.

One placard read: "We don't care about a roof apartment. We just want a roof."

As the crowds chanted "we want social justice", protest organizer Na'ama Peled said that joining in the countrywide housing demonstrations was "the most meaningful thing" that local residents could have done.

"This struggle is happening right here, right now, and it belongs to us, to everyone here," said Peled. "And together we have the strength to see it through. Let's not listen to the cynics, let's ask each other for social justice."

Also heavily represented in the crowd were young people, including a large group dressed in the scout movement uniform.

Almog Odonsky, Ramat Hasharon's municipal youth adviser, said the large turnout indicated the seriousness of the housing problems in the city, not least for Ramat Hasharon's youth.

"People see their grown children cannot afford an apartment for themselves even though they earn a good salary," Odonsky said. "We want the young people of Ramat Hasharon to be able to afford an apartment in town."

One demonstrator, Deborah Guth, said she had traveled from Herzliya to join in Saturday night's protest.

"I think this demonstration is very important. There's a horrendous gap between rich and poor in Israel," said Guth. "The cake needs to be distributed more equally."

Local resident Ido Cohen, who came to the demonstration with his wife and three young children, said he had decided to join in Saturday's demonstration in the hope that something is done about the housing crisis.

"I want my kids to be able to afford a roof over their heads when they grow up," he said, as he helped his daughter carry a placard reading "The people want social justice."

The periphery protests were held after Netanyahu asked Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich to make sure that police and city officials would not issue orders to evacuate the various campsites that have sprung up throughout the country.

The prime minister’s request came after eviction notices were reported in Or Yehuda and Yehud, as well as for the kitchen tent in north Tel Aviv’s Nordau Boulevard tent city.

Last week, municipal clerks circled the tent cities in northern Tel Aviv, allegedly telling activists that the city would evict vacant tents.

The request also came days after Netanyahu announced the formation of a special committee headed by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, which is tasked with examining the economic issues driving the grievances behind the protest movement and issuing recommendations to address them.

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