Following a week of tent protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, nearly a thousand
demonstrators furious over the soaring cost of housing marched to the Knesset on
Sunday night with a dozen tents hoisted on their shoulders.
nation demands social justice!” the demonstrators packed up their temporary
camp-out in Kikar Tzahal, next to the Old City Walls, and moved their tents next
to the entrance to the Knesset.
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They plan to stay the night in front of
the Knesset, and on Monday afternoon will move to a permanent camp in Gan Hasus
(Horse Park) on King George Street, where they will stay until “there is
meaningful change,” said Sivan Vardi, the director of the Jerusalem activist
organization Ruah Hadasha (New Spirit).
“Until we get the things we need,
we are going to stay in the streets,” she said.
On Monday morning,
demonstrators will build a fake brick wall and use their tents to block the
entrance to the Knesset, representing the “impenetrable wall” that the
government has put around affordable housing. The gesture is intended to
symbolically prevent Knesset members from attending a vote on Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s National Housing Committee Law.
“This is the first
time the middle class is waking up and demanding to be able to live here,” said
Rachel Azaria, a city councilwoman from the Yerushalmim party. “It’s not only
about housing, it’s much larger,” Azaria continued, as she marched with her
husband and three daughters on Sunday night.
“I have no money to pay for
rent, [my] salary keeps going down and the rent goes up – it’s impossible to
live here,” said 27-year-old Itai Abuav, a political science student at the
Hebrew University, echoing the sentiments of hundreds of the demonstrators.
The protesters on Sunday night were almost
exclusively people in their 20s trying to balance school and work with paying
“I could be the dad of almost everyone here,” said Haim
Ben-Ami, a 59-year-old former high-school principal who was one of the only
demonstrators over age 30. Ben-Ami has been looking for an apartment for his
daughter for the past few months and was discouraged by what he has
“Finally, the students got out of their apathy and are actually
doing something,” he said. He added that most parents were embarrassed to show
up at the protest because it meant that they were struggling to help their
children pay rent.
Ben-Ami, who now works in real estate, after retiring
from education, said that since the tent protests started two weeks ago, rents
have actually increased by hundreds of shekels as landlords in Jerusalem learned
how much students pay to live in Tel Aviv.
Former Jerusalemite Amir Ben-
Cohen, who moved to south Tel Aviv because the prices were lower than Jerusalem,
said the small number of demonstrators on Sunday night was because people were
“simply exhausted” from the past week of protests, including the large
demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, which attracted upwards of 20,000
“Yesterday was a critical mass of people,” said Ben-Cohen, a
29-yearold anthropology student at the Hebrew University. “Yesterday, there was
optimism; we really felt there was something changing.”
was detained after trying to jump the fence in front of the Knesset, but the
demonstration was much tamer than Saturday’s Tel Aviv march, when 43 people were
arrested for tussling with police as the event broke up.
police said the protesters were permitted to block roads at the end of Saturday
night’s demonstration, but a group of law-breakers chose to attack officers by
throwing stun and smoke grenades, dragging garbage cans and throwing
“We warned them repeatedly that they would be dispersed, and
those who did not respond were subjected to reasonable force,” Tel Aviv police
Police accused the activists of cynically using the goodwill of
officers toward freedom of expression and demonstration, to riot. Of the 43
arrested, eight were brought to the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Sunday for a
remand hearing. The court ruled to release one person unconditionally, while the
remaining seven were released under restricted conditions.
The court also
issued an injunction that bans the seven protesters from entering the tent city
encampment on Rothschild Boulevard for the next seven days.
asked the court to prolong the detentions of all eight protesters.
are suspected of offenses that include assaulting police officers, damaging
property and throwing a smoke grenade.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
on Sunday reassured those protesting against soaring housing prices that as
early as this week, a series of steps will be taken to reduce costs and simplify
planning and building procedures.
“Apartments are too expensive because
there are not enough of them. There are not enough apartments because a
government monopoly holds more than 90 percent of the land in Israel, and it is
not releasing it,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet
“First of all, it is not releasing it for planning because there
are planning committees, the most cumbersome in the Western world or nearly so,
and it takes five or more years to plan an apartment in Israel.
not releasing it because when an apartment is planned, in order to market it,
there is another cumbersome body, called the Israel Lands Authority, which
releases it very slowly, at very high prices,” the prime minister
“To change this, it is necessary to bring about a fundamental
change, to break the government monopoly, to simplify the planning and building
committees and to simplify the ILA and change it into a body that markets the
land of the State of Israel for the Israeli people,” he said.
45,000 apartments this year in new construction projects, but “it is not
enough,” Netanyahu said.
“This week, we will do two major things. One, we
will pass the ILA reform and the reform of the planning and building committees,
so that the ‘supertanker’ may take off. It hasn’t yet and this will be the first
thing,” he said. “The second thing, we will take a series of focused steps to
help young couples, students and other needy populations in the next one to 1.5
years until the major increases in housing come into force.”
Sunday, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio that the government
has been discussing the housing shortage for almost two years and that people
have already begun to feel the effects of regulations designed to reduce housing
prices across the country.
Steinitz said he believes housing prices will
drop by the end of 2011 or in early 2012.
The government is trying to
catch up on an almost 10-year lag in housing construction, and whoever claims
that the problem can be solved within a few months is “mistaken,” he told Israel
The finance minister also expressed disappointment over opposition
in the cabinet to housing reforms that would shorten the procedures for
obtaining approval for new projects.
Labor MK Isaac Herzog, also speaking
to Israel Radio, said Steinitz’s comments were “fishy” and that the government
must intervene immediately in the apartment rental market and in building
According to Herzog, Netanyahu and Steinitz have long
“ignored the warning signs” over the housing issue, some of which he himself
sent.Yaakov Lappin, Ben Hartman and Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to