It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I discover that I’m ahead of the times.
Last week I realized I had been a potential trendsetter 21 years ago.
Unfortunately, it was one of those occasions when even being able to pronounce
“I told you so!” with a righteous sigh did not make me feel good.
piece I wrote under the headline “Out of control,” published in The Jerusalem
Post Magazine in July 1990, I opined: “This is the time of year when I see red.
This is the time of year when I think red. My face, bank account and politics
are all red...
“This is the time of year when I am forced to search for
“Every year since I left the greenhouse safety of
university dormitories, I have had the same crisis at the same time. Usually
it’s a simple war of nerves over whether the landlord will or won’t renew the
lease and by how much the rent will jump...
“This year our landlady is
not renewing our lease.
This year the flat-hunting is worse than
“More homes are definitely being built in the city,” I pointed
out. “All over town you can see luxury apartments under construction. I recently
asked one developer how he squared the building of luxury apartments (the
cheapest going for $150,000) with the needs created by the influx of Soviet
“He replied that he intended to use the immigrants as a labor force and thus provide them with jobs.
Well, good for him, but I
wonder where he intends his musicians-turned-bricklayers to live.”
passage, admittedly, sounds dated: The new immigrants have become seasoned
veterans – and more to the point, the idea of a luxury apartment “going for
$150,000” is now ludicrous. Even the price of small flat in Jerusalem is about
double that. But it says something in favor of the Israeli economy (and part of
the credit goes to those same immigrants from the early 1990s) that the prices
are now quoted in shekels and not dollars and – unlike even the American economy
– Israel’s financial situation has weathered the global storm well.
what’s the solution?” I asked in conclusion, all those years ago. “For a while I
envisaged myself wandering the streets of the capital singing, ‘All I want is a
room somewhere,’ my computer-cum-livelihood in one hand, my books-cum-worldly
possessions in the other, my trusting cat tagging along.
“But things are
now looking brighter for me. My friends demanding electoral reform recently
evacuated their tent across from the President’s Residence – out of disgust
rather than political achievement, I’m afraid. This could provide me with an
affordable home, with neither rates, house-committee charges or capricious
“This prestigious address – ‘Liat Collins, Sderot Hanassi
[President’s Boulevard]’ has a ring to it, and would provide strategically
situated headquarters for a new campaign: Bring back rental and housing
Trouble is, I can’t distribute campaign literature at the
moment, as I don’t have a home phone number or address.”
THERE IS another
obvious difference between the “tent cities” that have sprung up around the
country in the last week to protest the untenable price of housing and the
demonstration I envisaged 21 years ago. Then, I thought I would use the
facilities evacuated by the political protesters rather than turn my
demonstration into a political issue.
It is too early to say whether the
latest wave of public dissatisfaction that started with the so-called Cottage
Cheese Rebellion and has now reached the real housing situation will eventually
bulldoze the current government out of power. It has certainly shaken it out of
At the moment, it’s hard – although not impossible – to
foresee this particular coalition crumbling over social issues. It is even more
difficult to imagine the next Israeli elections being won solely on the basis of
a socio-economic platform rather than a security-diplomatic-based one.
Post political reporter Gil Hoffman pointed out in an analysis last week,
already National Union MK Uri Ariel has suggested that US President Barack Obama
is to blame for the astronomical rents and rising cost of housing, having
prevented construction in Judea and Samaria.
In any case, while the
Knesset enjoys its summer recess, returning only in October, it is unlikely that
the momentum will be maintained.
Clearly some of the protesters are
participating more for the “in-tents experience” than to actually effect a deep
social change. It’s summer vacation for the students, too, and as a Yisrael
commentator noted, the protest camp on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard is
serving as something between a massive pick-up bar and a cheap alternative to
chilling out in Goa, on the Indian coast.
That’s not to say that the
protest is not legitimate.
My sympathies are with not only the students
and other singles who can’t afford decent housing, but also the young (and old)
families for whom cottage cheese is a luxury and home ownership beyond their
I have heard, of course, the many voices (mainly from those who
are living very comfortably) telling the students they are “spoiled”: There’s no
need for them to be staying in the major cities.
I heard the same
argument when I left my parents’ home in Karmiel in 1982 to study in the
capital. The Galilee town has developed considerably since then but I still
don’t accept the reasoning. Why should young people from the periphery give up
the chance of living in the big city for a while? Most of them have spent the
previous two to three years serving in the army – they deserve the opportunity
to enjoy the student experience, especially as the majority are also working at
least part-time and doing reserve duty.
True, the students need not seek
the most prestigious neighborhoods (although much depends on the vagaries of
public transport) but even the less fancy areas are expensive. (I should know:
With a lot of help and a mortgage, I finally purchased an apartment in the
Katamonim a few years ago. Today, I couldn’t even afford to rent there.)
is the solution in 2011? Not the freeing of more land if it is only going to be
turned into luxury homes. There needs to be better use of available land within
existing urban areas, recognizing the real needs of residents. Ignoring the
environmental and social impact of expedited construction is only sowing the
seeds of the protests a couple of decades down the line, when it will be too
late to undo the damage.
Similarly, the much-vaunted
eviction-construction projects, now being marketed under the more attractive
title “urban renewal,” should be handled with care: Too often those evicted
cannot afford to maintain the more expensive apartments constructed where they
used to live.
The building of apartments for long-term rental should be
A neighbor told me she thought the tent protests are
a sign of a real change; I think a more encouraging sign was when Finance
Minister Yuval Steinitz finally stood up to the tycoons a few months ago and
insisted that more of the expected revenue from the off-shore gas reserves be
used for the public good.
If I’ve learned anything in the past 21 years,
it’s that the “free market” often carries a high social price.
is the real message of the tent cities: It is not only the cost of housing that
needs to be addressed, we simply cannot afford to ignore the underlying social
issues.The writer is editor of
The International Jerusalem Post.