Tens of thousands rally in Tel Aviv for affordable housing

In largest social demonstration in years, people march from Habima Square to TA Museum, chanting “we want social justice, not charity”; PM expected to unveil plan to address housing shortage; around 20 arrested.

Tent City Rally (Ben) 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman [file])
Tent City Rally (Ben) 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman [file])
Thousands gathered in central Tel Aviv on Saturday night for a rally against soaring housing prices and the high cost of living.
The rally, which was the country’s biggest social-issues demonstration in years, brought together people from tent cities across the country, who have been camping over the past week, as well as tens of thousands of other Israelis from all walks of life.
Chanting, “We want social justice, not charity” and, “The people want social justice,” the protesters marched from Kikar Habimah to the Tel Aviv Museum, where they held the demonstration.
Overcome with emotion, Daphni Leef, one of the organizers and the first activist to call for the tent protest, said, “I never believed this would happen – we are not alone.
“We got so used to suffering alone, and our desperation was so great... In my entire life I never thought I would give up my apartment and find my home. We are in the street, and we must stay in the street! “A roof over your head is the most basic thing, that all of us deserve. There are people who are fighting every day to have this roof over their heads. I as a young woman feel that I am almost there,” Leef said. “Everyone, all of this generation, we are one!” she added, to thunderous applause.
The rally was the largest event yet in the social movement that started last week with a small tent city set up on Rothschild Boulevard and quickly turned into a phenomenon, launching copycat tent cities across the country.
The protest movement was launched after 26-year-old Tel Avivian Leef’s landlord raised her rent and she opened a Facebook page calling for Israelis to camp out in Rothschild to protest the country’s housing costs.
The description on the Facebook page for Saturday’s march frames the event as one of historic proportions, on par with the November 1947 vote on UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in the British-ruled Palestinian Mandate.
“If the coming Shabbat was November 29, 1947, would you have stayed at home on Facebook or gone out to the streets? This coming Shabbat, July 23, 2011, is the November 29 of our generation,” she said.
The Facebook page says that all of the tent cities from across the country will meet up at Kikar Habimah in Tel Aviv, “our personal Tahrir Square... Only 200 meters from where the independence of the state was declared.”
The message ends by calling on everyone to take part, because “this is our country and it is time for them to give it back.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to unveil a new plan to address the housing shortage as early as Sunday.
It is expected to include solutions for young couples, students and recently released soldiers.
Netanyahu worked on the plan in a meeting on Friday with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Construction and Housing Ariel Attias and Prime Minister’s Office director-general Eyal Gabai. The prime minister instructed Steinitz and Attias to work on a plan that will soon be presented to the public.
Around 20 demonstrators were arrested by police after they blocked the intersection of Kaplan and Ibn Gvirol streets in central Tel Aviv after the rally. Mounted police clashed with the protestors and used smoke grenades to clear the junction, though no injuries were reported in the incident.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.