Protest leaders call for all tent cities to mass in TA

Demonstrators to Mitzna: "You politicians are all liars, thieves and corrupt"; TA organizer: Time has come to return [country] to its people.

Tent City organizer Dafni Leef 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Tent City organizer Dafni Leef 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
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.
“The struggle 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.
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“This is 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 burden.”
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 said.
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.”
She rejected criticism that the protest movement was exclusively for “white, middle-class” citizens.
“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.
The 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.
Also 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 on Sunday.
“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 honest.
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.