11 arrested in mass-housing protests in Jerusalem

Haredim join demonstrations; protesters arrested outside Knesset and PM’s home; police use force to disperse demonstration.

By MELANIE LIDMAN,
July 25, 2011 21:09
4 minute read.
Housing protest in Jerusalem

Housing protest in Jerusalem 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Protests over lack of affordable housing stretched into the 11th day on Monday morning, as approximately 100 young people protested outside the Knesset, resulting in 11 arrests.

Demonstrators attempted to build a brick wall across the entrance road to the Knesset to represent the “impenetrability” of the government, and to block access to a Knesset discussion about a reform to the housing law.

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Five demonstrators were arrested when they attempted to block traffic, and police used force to disperse the demonstration.

One police officer was injured in the protest and was evacuated to Sha’are Tzedek hospital. The brick wall was about three rows high when police destroyed it.

Meanwhile, two large protests also took place at Kikar Paris, in front of the prime minister’s house. In the afternoon, dozens of demonstrators tried to block traffic by lying down in the middle of the road. Police used force to disperse them and arrested eight protesters for disturbing the peace.

In the evening, dozens of protesters again gathered in front of the prime minister’s house to denounce soaring housing prices. TK demonstrators were arrested.

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Demonstrators also blocked roads in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other areas. In some cases, the protesters left the roads on their own initiative, while in others, police cleared the activists.

Police cleared a group of 10 demonstrators in Haifa’s Merkaz Hacarmel area, and stationed patrol cars in the vicinity.

In Jerusalem, one demonstrator was detained after she arrived at the demonstration with more bricks and emptied them across the road. The demonstration broke up after the students moved to Gan HaSus (Horse Park) on King George Street in downtown Jerusalem, where they are setting up a permanent camp until there are “significant changes” to the housing market, said demonstrators.

Later, 100 protesters from the National Union of Israeli Students knocked on MKs’ office doors to explain to them why they should oppose the government’s bill to expedite building plans. The students’ position paper called for a significant percentage of the homes the bill will provide to be small and affordable.

A dozen other students also met with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who emphasized the importance of respecting democracy and letting elected officials to do their work. “There will always be political and social disagreements, but protests cannot stop the democratic process,” he said.

The Knesset Speaker told students “this house is your house,” and they are welcome to speak with, and try to influence, MKs – but, he added, “the Knesset has to decide” the fate of the construction bill.

Also on Monday, for the first time haredi demonstrators joined the protest. Previously, the ultra-Orthodox had stayed away from the major housing demonstrations, worried that their presence would cause more harm by creating divisions in the movement.

A group of a dozen ultra- Orthodox from the “Israel is Right” (Yisrael Tzodeket) coalition – made up of seven organizations from secular, haredi, right-wing and left-wing groups – continued demonstrating outside the Knesset after the students left.

“Instead of protesting against each other, we want to work in cooperation, because working together can really bring change,” said Yehuda Shai, a Jerusalem resident and board member in the coalition for haredi groups.

He added that his group had been hesitant to join the protests on Rothchild Boulevard in Tel Aviv over the past week, even though the haredi sector is also struggling with the same shortage of housing.

“There are certain groups that took these protests in an antireligious and anti-Semetic direction, and claim that religious people are taking all of the apartments,” said Shai.

“One of the tragedies of society here is that they take everything and turn it into cheap politics and anti-Semitism.”

The center of the tent city protests, Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, was largely deserted Monday afternoon, as large numbers of participants made their way to Jerusalem, or escaped the midday heat away from the tent city.

Dozens lined up on Rothschild to board two buses to take them to Jerusalem, and organizers said they planned to join the Jerusalem protests.

After 11 days of continuous protests and a 20,000-strong march on Saturday night, protesters were smaller in number, but still passionate about the struggle for affordable housing.

“The fight on Rothschild started a large wave, and it’s important that other people join and then we can make a big change,” said Nili Navo, a 27-year-old Gilo resident from the Dror Yisrael movement.

As the demonstrations have transformed into political action – rather than the chaotic language that characterized the first days of the tent city explosion – the broad requests of the demonstrators are becoming far more specific.

On Monday, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat called for Netanyahu to consider changing the criteria for the “priced by inhabitant” apartments, which are government- subsidized apartments for people that meet certain benchmarks.

Traditionally, these subsidized apartments have benefitted haredi families, by setting aside subsidized apartments for large families, sometimes with seven or more children.

Barkat’s request was the most official endorsement of a position embraced by many housing-advocacy groups, including the two main Jerusalem organizations for young people, Ruah Hadasha (New Spirit) and Hitorerut (Awakening). Both organizations have been advocating for changes to these criteria for over a year.

Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.

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