Activists in the week-long tent protests against the cost of living and housing prices seemed to be adopting more aggressive tactics Thursday morning after a week of much more passive sleep-ins across the country.
RELATED:Right wing group pulls out of Tel Aviv tent protest Rent revolt hits Jerusalem Haredim support 'tent city' protests, but won't join in
Student activists took over a construction site at the corner of Rehov Dizengoff and Rehov Frishman early Thursday morning, noting that there is available land for construction but that it is being built only for wealthy buyers.
Another protest developed in front of the Kirya IDF base, with demonstrators blocking a busy intersection at the corner of Kaplan and Menachem Begin and setting up tents in the intersection. The rush hour protest caused heavy traffic jams.
Leaders of the Tel Aviv “tent city” protest said they were entering a new stage
in their fight against rent prices, declaring at a press conference Wednesday
that they would hold a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday to which they
would invite all the tent cities set up across the country.
is entering a new phase. We are announcing a massive demonstration on
this coming Shabbat, the 23rd of July 2011. We call on all of the tent cities
from across Israel to come to the tent city [in Tel Aviv]. We will lay our
demands before the government of Israel and regain our rights.
our country, and the time has come to return it to the people,” said Daphni
Leef, 25, the Tel Aviv resident who started the nationwide protest when she
launched a Facebook group nearly two weeks ago.
In her declaration, Leef
charged that “most of this country has been deprived of its basic rights until
we got to the situation where [people] aren’t free anymore. We are enslaved.
Most of us barely manage to survive, and others are no longer supporting the
At around 11 p.m. at Kikar Tzahal, just outside the Old City,
there was a swelling crowd of mostly students surrounding some 20-30 tents. A
band played in the square.
Lior Kapuller, a student at Hebrew University,
was enjoying the atmosphere.
“It’s a social thing,” she said. Protesters
around her sipped beers and enjoyed the band’s performance.
“But we do
believe it’s a good cause, and a decent one, and that we should be here,” she
Anna, 24, said she comes to the protests in the evenings and slept there overnight because she works two jobs during the day. A political science and economics major at Hebrew University, she said she lives in the dorms because it’s the most affordable option.
“We know steps can be taken to lower the prices,” she said. “[But the government is] against it. The pressure here is to change their strategy, to make it [work] more for us, and not just for the wealthy.
“This land belongs to us," but the housing goes to highest bidder, Anna said. She moved to the capital two years ago and wants to stay in Jerusalem, but knows she can’t afford to buy an apartment.
Yotam, 25 and also a student, said the tent protests are part of the larger economic struggle sweeping Israel.
“People are starting to pay attention,” he said. “The state provides cheaper housing for the ultra-Orthodox, but not for other segments of society. It’s possible to build cheaper housing for us. It just doesn’t happen.”
Yotam, originally from Mazkeret Batya, said he also lives in the dorms because it’s the least expensive option.
Mindy, 28, said the government needs both short- and long-term solutions to the housing crisis, “at least regulating the market... so rents don’t go up 15 percent a year anymore.”
She and her boyfriend planned to move into a studio with a loft for NIS 3,000 a month, but the landlord recently decided to raise the price to NIS 3,500 and now she is unsure if they can afford it.
If the city does
nothing to regulate housing prices, Mindy said, anything else the municipality
does will be in vain.
“All the other cultural things... aren’t
going to make a difference if no one can live here.”
criticism that the protest movement was exclusively for “white, middle-class”
“We are here for all segments of society, for people who live
in poor conditions all over the country,” she said, adding that the middle
class, more than other groups, can afford to protest in the streets.
location of the tents, she said, means a diverse range of people have stopped
by. “Everybody can feel like they are a part of it,” she said.
Wednesday, the Israel National Students Union announced that they would keep
supporting the protests until the government came up with solutions to provide
affordable housing for the masses. The union, which has taken a leadership role
in the protests outside Tel Aviv, added that it would be intensifying the
protests – citing the example of the short-term blocking of an intersection in
Kiryat Shmona on Wednesday.
At the request of Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, the Knesset Economics Committee convened Wednesday to pass changes to
Netanyahu’s national housing bill that had passed the day before. The MKs added
to the bill a requirement that construction on projects begin within
two-and-a-half years of their being approved.
Netanyahu’s bill is
expected to pass its final readings in the Knesset plenum before the MKs leave
for their summer recess on August 3.
In an effort to embarrass
socioeconomically-minded Likud ministers and MKs, Kadima presented an
affordable housing bill to a role-call vote in the Knesset on Wednesday. When
each Likud MK said “against” during the vote, Kadima MKs shouted: “He is against
affordable housing!” The bill fell
by a vote of 48 to 40, after Interior
Minister Eli Yishai tried in vain to persuade Kadima to delay the vote. He
promised to personally raise the issue in the Knesset committee on legislation
“Who did you defeat?” Kadima MK Eli Aflalo shouted at Likud
ministers after the vote. “The tent people! Our brothers!” Meanwhile, Labor
leadership candidate Amram Mitzna was heckled on a visit to the tent city
erected in Beersheba.
“You politicians are all liars, thieves and
corrupt!” protesters shouted at Mitzna, who has a reputation for being
Also on Wednesday, Netanyahu met on the housing crisis with
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias
and the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Eyal Gabai.JPost.com staff contributed to this report