stroller march, housing crisis,
Parents marching in Tel Aviv on July 28, 2011 as part of a nationwide movement known as the 'stroller march.' Photo by Alon Ron
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Israel’s summer of protests branched out yesterday as thousands of parents and children marched through dozens of cities to demonstrate against the high cost of living for families with young children.

“The protest spread so quickly − without central organization,” said Anat Rosolio, an organizer of what have become known as “stroller protests” or “stroller marches.”
“I got dozens of e-mails from parents who held marches in their cities.”

In Rishon Letzion, about 100 parents marched down the main thoroughfare, Rothschild Boulevard. They stopped every few minutes to give their children a drink or explain to passerbys the reason for the march.

Tali Brill, an organizer of the Rishon Letzion march, said parents wanted to protest locally because they realized they would not get their children out of day care in time to get to the stroller march in Tel Aviv.

But in the neighboring town of Rehovot, the march intentionally stayed local in order to join the town’s tent protest, gathering some 400 people from all walks of life. Here the protesters’ calls were different from those elsewhere over the past few days: “Left, right, marching together” and “Cheaper apartments and cheaper diapers.”

The Council for the Welfare of the Child came out in support of the protest but called on parents not to bring young children and babies to demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino spoke out publicly for the first time about the recent friction between police and demonstrators, calling on the police to “show restraint and allow any expression of legitimate protest that is not against the law or public order.”

The chairwoman of a police rights group, Oshra Assaf, told Haaretz: “Yesterday I called on all the families of police personnel to join me in the Tel Aviv tents or in any other city and support the protest.”

But Danino said he would not allow “any attempt by extremists to take advantage of the social struggle to break the law, use violence, block traffic, damage property or harm people.”

In Haifa, parents and children blocked traffic as they marched through the middle-class neighborhood of Mercaz Hacarmel calling for “free education for all.” The message on their signs was a pun: “dear children.”

“Sleepy people from Haifa came out into the streets because they really have no choice; they have no money to pay for raising their children,” said former Haifa Councilwoman Neta Dovrin, a divorced mother of one.

A joint rally of young families and tent protesters is planned for tomorrow night in Haifa, as well as in Be’er Sheva, where some 150 parents with strollers marched yesterday in protest.

The Soklers, from the Western Galilee community of Koranit, the parents of two children, also came to the Haifa march, after protesting in Tel Aviv. “My husband and I make NIS 15,000 together and we can’t make ends meet,” Tzipi Sokler said.

“We’re both former IDF officers, and we volunteered a year of social service .... We couldn’t go to university at the same time because we couldn’t both study without working. We moved from the center of the country to the Galilee to find affordable housing, but even in the Galilee I pay NIS 3,400 for a 60-square-meter apartment.”

Back in Tel Aviv, in the heart of Rothschild Boulevard on upholstered chairs and dusty mattresses, some of the country’s most prominent authors engaged in a spirited nighttime dialogue with protest leaders and passersby.

Meir Shalev, Yoram Kaniuk, Etgar Keret, Eshkol Nevo and Roni Somek all said they had come to support the struggle.

“The Israeli government has been neglecting the backbone of society for too long,” Shalev told Haaretz. “This government obeys only those who use force. So far, it’s been the ultra-Orthodox and the settlers .... We didn’t realize secular people could organize such a thing .... It’s exciting; there’s enormous energy here.”

Shalev called on the protest’s leaders to adopt the goal of getting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of office.

Somek, who visits the Rothschild tent city every day, said he felt like he was in the “delivery room of the revolution.”

A number of Arab towns are preparing to set up their own tents in the next few days to protest the lack of housing in Arab areas.

Young activists from parties such as Balad and Hadash will set up tents in Nazareth and Haifa, as well as in other northern and central Arab towns. Residents of Baka al-Garbiyeh set up tents after a protest rally yesterday evening.

Residents of the unrecognized Bedouin towns in the Negev also joined the protests, setting up a tent in Segev Shalom.

Fuaz Hussein, a resident of the Druze town of Hurfeish, has started a petition protesting the lack of housing in non-Jewish communities. “The distress of the non-Jewish population is no less severe,” he said, citing problems like the lack of master plans, the dearth of mortgage aid and high population density.

But some Arabs say they should join the protests already underway, especially in Tel Aviv, instead of setting up new ones in Arab towns. The housing crisis in the Arab community has existed for a long time, and no one has taken it seriously, a senior Arab politician told Haaretz. Thus the protest is a golden opportunity for Arab citizens to finally make their voices heard over the issue.

The protests spread to the Western Negev city of Sderot yesterday, with a joint rally of students and young families scheduled for today.

Meanwhile, in the northern Jordan Valley town of Beit She’an, city inspectors dismantled three protest tents, saying they lacked police permits.

The three-tent protest was initiated by Liat Zohar, who with her husband Uri has been involved in a long, high-profile fight against the public housing company Amidar and the Beit She’an municipality. Amidar evicted the couple and their five children because Amidar said they had not paid their rent in full, which the family disputes.

The Beit She’an municipality said Zohar would be allowed to hold her tent protest after applying for the proper permits.

Local government is now joining the struggle, with a delegation of mayors visiting the tent protesters in Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva, and local authorities announcing demonstrations and rallies and a closure of municipal offices on Monday in sympathy with the demonstrators.

Yanir Yagna, Ilan Lior and Eli Ashkenazi contributed to this report.