5 arrested in housing protest outside Knesset

Rivlin tells protesters to respect democracy; haredim join demonstrations; protesters interrupt Knesset c'tee meeting.

By MELANIE LIDMAN,
July 25, 2011 19:15
4 minute read.
Protests against high price of rent near Knesset

Jerusalem Rent Protest 311. (photo credit: LAHAV HARKOV)

 
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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 of the Knesset. 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.

Five demonstrators were arrested they tried 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.

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One demonstrator was detained after she arrived at the demonstration with more bricks and emptied them all over 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.





The students interrupted a joint meeting of the Knesset Economic and Interior Committees on the bill, yelling "we're sick of this" after only NUIS Chairman Itzik Shmuli was permitted to speak. Some of the students were ejected from the meeting.

Shmuli said the bill is "just a headline empty of content. We will continue our battle until there is accessible housing with guarantees from the government," he added.

Shmuli and a dozen other students also met with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who emphasized the importance of respecting democracy and allowing elected officials to do their work.

"The Knesset works according to democratic rules," Rivlin explained. "There will always be political and social disagreements, but protests cannot stop the democratic process."

The Knesset Speaker told students "this house is your house," and they are welcome to speak to and try to influence MKs; however "the Knesset has to decide" the fate of the construction bill.

Also on Monday, for the first time haredi demonstrators joined the protest. Previously, 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 and protest together, because working together can really bring change,” said Yehuda Shai, a Jerusalem resident and board member in the coalition for haredi groups. He said that his group had been hesitant to join the protests on Rothchild 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 anti-religious 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 and return to Tel Aviv later on in the night.

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 on Rothchild Boulevard, the requests of the demonstrators are beginning to harden into specific requests.

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 organizations, including the two main Jerusalem organizations for young people, Ruah Hadasha (New Spirit) and Hitorerut Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Awakening) both of whom been advocating for changes to these criteria for over a year.

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