Pushing the boundaries

The middle-class 'stroller protesters' claim their goals are more concrete and attainable than the more general, amorphous demands of the 'tent city' population.

Average wage earners can't support a family. (photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
Average wage earners can't support a family.
(photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
‘The nation demands social justice!” The rallying chant of the housing protest wafted over the stroller protest as it proceeded along King George Avenue, moving slowly from the Prime Minister’s Residence to the corner of Rehov Bezalel on July 31. The slow progress was not entirely the design of the organizers but was forced upon the procession by the fact that hundreds of strollers were crammed into the narrow sidewalk, and Border Police ensured that the protesters confine themselves to the pedestrian area so as not to impede the city buses.
Despite the chant of the loudest members at the front, the reality of the stroller protest seems to have been less about amorphous ideas like social justice and more about the reality in which the participating families find themselves. Says Miriam (not her real name), who came from Tekoa with her five children, “It is just too expensive, and our salaries are too low. I’m trying to raise five children, and I can barely afford rent and food.”
Yiftach Seri and his wife, Orly Ben-Dov, both in their early 30s, know what it is like to live abroad. “We lived in the US for two years and we saw how much strollers cost, how much normal items cost,” explains Ben-Dov. Seri, who is an engineer, thinks the solution is “to open the lands and lower the taxes. We are a couple with just two children and have college degrees. After many years we decided to buy a house, and it was already too late. We live in Beit Hakerem and want to stay in Jerusalem.”
The problem for him mostly boils down to cost. “Even in the periphery, a house costs NIS 1.3 million, and in the city it is NIS 2m. just for a simple property. We earn slightly more than the average wage for a family [which is NIS 10,000] and can’t afford it.”
Seri thinks that one solution might be withdrawal from the West Bank. “If we leave the territories, the country will have more money to take care of the people. A different government, I think, might be willing to leave the Palestinian areas.”
For them, the protest is an important event. “We want to live in a decent area and raise our children,” says Ben-Dov, who has an MA in social psychology.
Daniela Gefen is completing an MA in social work and works with underprivileged children in Jerusalem. “I came to this protest because, first of all, someone organized it. We are all used to sitting around and moaning about what is happening. We work and work and get 50 percent taken off for taxes. We feel that we are strong enough to do something about it. What is behind this protest is the housing problem, which is huge. The state isn’t doing enough, but it is taking a lot of our money, huge taxation. The state owns most of the land in Israel, and it isn’t doing enough to release the lands. There are all sorts of bureaucratic hurdles, and we are considered one of the highest taxation countries in the world. You pay when you buy and sell property.”
Gefen is conscious of her place in Israeli society. “We are the 30% who work and pay taxes and do reserve duty. But in order to live, we need help from our parents. Salaries, which have increased only 8% in the last few years, don’t keep up with housing prices, which have increased 50-70%. We could never afford to purchase in the German Colony where we are renting.”
Aharon Gefen, Daniela’s husband, is 29 and works for the Jerusalem Municipality. With an MA in public policy, he is also a teaching assistant in the Hebrew University’s Public Policy Department. His parents are American doctors and came to Israel in 1974, raising Aharon and his six siblings in a small apartment in Bayit Vagan.
“It is important for people to know that this demonstration of the families is very different; the claims are specific and concrete. We are asking for free education from the youngest age… The law of education today only starts from the age of four. Today it costs NIS 2,500 to send our daughter to day care. If we can’t afford it, then Daniela can’t work. This is a reasonable, concrete demand that can be met, as opposed to just saying ‘lower the housing prices.’ We are also asking that the bus company not charge us for taking our strollers on the bus. Today I have to pay for the stroller. It makes it easier for the government to make changes when we have concrete demands,” he says.
As the protest makes its way along King George Avenue, it joins the protesters who have been living in tents in the center of Jerusalem for a week now. The loudspeakers come out, and the speech-making begins. One man stands on the side with a sign in Hebrew and Arabic calling on the government to go. He also has a sign in English that reads, “We’ve been had.”
Ido Naveh, who is in his late 20s and lives in Kiryat Hayovel, explains that he studied Arabic at the Hebrew University and made the signs with his Liberian-born wife who speaks English. “It is the slogan they had in Tahrir Square, ‘Go.’”
Like the other protesters, Naveh is an educated professional trying to raise a family. “My wife and I have three children – a newborn aged three weeks, one who is almost two, and another who is five. I work doing Arabic translation, but it doesn’t pay our bills or cover the cost of raising the children. I don’t think the current government will ‘change its tune’ as people say. We are living in an illogical situation.”
What seems to set the participants in the stroller protest apart from their peers is not only their high level of education. They are also realistic about their goals and ideas. Daniela explains, “I am sure that some of the people behind this are ultra-Left and want to bring us back to the 1950s, but most of these people are not that way.”
Her husband adds, “I sympathize with the housing market protesters a lot, but it makes it hard for me to go out and protest because I can’t write what I want on a sign; it is just general complaints. This demonstration spoke to me because it is about actual demands.”