Heat, high tourist season don’t stop Eilat protest

400 take to the streets for second weekly protest; organizer says turnout is meaningful during heavy tourism months.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
August 14, 2011 02:06
3 minute read.
People chat in a protest tent in Eilat

Protest tent in Eilat 311. (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)

At the height of Eilat’s busy season, five hours drive from the hundreds of tents on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, 400 residents of the country’s southernmost city took to the streets on Saturday night for a protest that put an emphasis on the country’s periphery.

It was the second such protest held in Eilat; a similar one last Saturday night drew 1,500 people in what organizers say was the biggest protest the city had ever seen.

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“We made history last week,” said a proud Moran Eloffer, who joined forces with a neighbor and other activists she met on Facebook to start the Eilat protests.

Eloffer said it was even more meaningful that the city of 60,000 was able to get such a large turnout in August, when most locals work long hours because of the influx of tourists.

Compared with Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where protests can sometimes take on an affected nature, the Eilat demonstration on Saturday night felt like a party for the new kid on the block. The organizers had to keep reminding the participants not to march so fast. And it might be the only protest in the country where the march was stopped for mandatory water breaks.

With nighttime temperatures approaching the high 20s or the low 30s, no one sleeps in Eilat’s two tent cities, which were founded two weeks ago.

They do, however, hold activities there, said Tomer Guiaire, another protest organizer.

“This week, all of the organizers from the South met with organizers in Tel Aviv, and we decided that we needed to strengthen the periphery, to show it’s not just about northern Tel Avivians but it’s about all the cities across the country,” Guiaire said, as demonstrators chanted “Eilat is on the map! Eilat is on the map!” “All the political protests the past month, we didn’t really feel them in Eilat,” said Dr. Kobi Arad, head of emergency medicine at the city’s Yoseftal Hospital.

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“Here we have a different mentality, but it’s nice to see that also here we’re waking up.”

Many demonstrators said distance made them feel disconnected to the protests in Tel Aviv, but that slowly the edges of the country are realizing they need to join the struggle in their own neighborhoods.

“It took time for the periphery to understand that there’s really something happening,” said Einat Ben-Moshe, a nurse who came with her family from Kibbutz Eilot, 3 km. north of the Red Sea.

“When you see 300,000 people in the streets [across the country], you understand, it’s easier to get people in the streets [in Eilat],” she said, referring to the Saturday night protest a week ago.

Eilat residents are feeling the same economic strain as the rest of the country, which is magnified by their distance to other major centers employment.

“This week, I was trying to figure out whether to buy food or books for my daughter’s school year,” said Chen Attoum, a 33- year-old mother of two who works in her family business. “I make good money, but with everything, I just can’t make ends meet.”

Due to its isolation and focus on the tourism industry, Eilat has unique challenges. But Guiaire insisted that the important thing was that the demonstrators in Tel Aviv understand that Eilat residents are supporting the struggle and fighting for the same things.

“Now is our chance to show the country that the hotel receptionist and the guy driving the banana boat are also human beings,” he said. “There are 60,000 people here who need education, transportation and healthcare, just like the people in Tel Aviv.”


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