Rothschild Tents 311.
(photo credit: Linda Epstein)
The mood was definitely upbeat, without being over the top. It began small and
local in Tel Aviv, and has now spread to any number of cities – big and small –
throughout Israel, including in Kiryat Gat (Chicago’s Partnership city in the
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Indeed, the “tent cities” of Israel, circa summer 2011,
have made history.
Rothschild Boulevard’s original encampment in Tel Aviv
Thursday evening still spread over several blocks. Some people were cooking in
makeshift kitchens; others were hanging laundry.
In the “living rooms”
which had been set up, some were giving lectures on everything from “What is a
social revolution?” (at the self-titled “School of Revolution”), to “What are
your rights as a parent vis a vis the education of your children?” There is a
library, a small wading pool for children and posters everywhere proclaiming
such things as “Che and Stalin are not our symbols – Gandhi and Martin Luther
King, Jr. are!” and “RevoluZion.”
While various countries surrounding
Israel enjoyed their “Arab Spring,” Israel itself is undergoing its summer of
It’s neither uncommon nor surprising for Israel to focus
primarily on security issues. Yet it is no surprise either that there would be
an eruption around social issues at some point for anyone who was paying
For the last few years, the statistics in Israel show that the
gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown exponentially.
was accepted during the last year into the OECD; and as soon as that happened,
it became clear that it is low on all charts relating to social
It’s true that the overall economy of Israel is robust.
Unemployment is relatively low, officially – but as with hidden school dropouts,
the number of working poor is quite large.
The minimum wage is NIS 4,100
a month (just under $15,000 a year); but taxes are very high – including a VAT
of 16 percent on all goods and services. If you need a lawyer, you pay 16% to
the government – on top of the cost of the service itself. When you go to the
grocery store, all food includes the 16% VAT.
Education is supposed to be
free from K-12, but the families have to buy their children’s text books. If you
want your child to participate in a school’s year-end trip, and you are earning
the minimum wage, it’s simply not possible.
This summer of discontent
began with the middle class in Tel Aviv, who are tired and frustrated that they
are primarily the ones who pay taxes, do reserve duty in the army, etc., yet
cannot save enough to even begin to think about buying their first home. They
can barely pay the rent.
The good news is that the participants are using
their artistic creativity and sense of humor.
There are two tents on top
of each other with a sign reading: “A duplex on Rothschild – If you’re going to
dream, dream all the way!” There’s also a freestanding “home” built on the
boulevard with a door-handle, a peephole and a bell to ring – but no door.
There’s even a segment of the tent city with a sign reading “Ministry of Street
Culture” – not to mention the sign which reads: “Boulevard If I Were a
And this week’s Time Out magazine for Tel Aviv, which lists
everything that’s happening in the city, has a cover reading: “We’re still
So what’s the best part of it all? I think it’s the fact
that these people – who give so much of themselves to this country – are looking
to improve the quality of life for the have-nots, and they are using the only
tools they have to do so: their creativity and passion.
In short – they
care about the future of Israel. As one sign read: “Justice; Not Charity!