Activist Yigal Rambam, Aren't You Afraid the Housing Protest Will Die Out?

'The aim is to find a solution to the housing crisis and to teach the people that they have strength...we don't have to cower and accept the government edicts that fall on us.'

There was a feeling of euphoria on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard yesterday. The tent-city protesters were amazed by the momentum they had created and by the many who had answered the call to demonstrate on Saturday night. Meanwhile, they were busy debating the form of their struggle. While some want to step up the protest, others say it should remain nonviolent.

Yigal Rambam, a 33-year-old social activist from Tel Mond, is one of the protest's organizers. After the demonstration, he tried to cool tempers when protesters clashed with the police. During this interview, he had a hard time finishing a sentence without being disturbed by shouts of support, requests to help other organizers, questions from passersby, demands from municipal inspectors and complaints from area residents.

Daniel Bar-On

Yigal Rambam, what's the next step? Where will the protest go from here?

We will have to think and decide. At the moment, we are continuing with the line of expanding the existing tent cities and setting up new ones. That's our strength.

Aren't you afraid that the protest will die out?

We have to constantly play on people's emotions, to constantly interest them. Everything in its own time. The very fact that we are sitting in tents, the very fact that people are cut off from television and are starting to talk to one another - that's both the means and the end.

What's the real aim?

The aim is to find a solution to the housing crisis and to teach the nation and the people that they have strength. Not everything is an edict from above, and we don't have to cower and accept the government edicts that fall on us. That's not a law of nature.

Judging by the calls at the demonstration, it seems that the aim is to bring down the government.

This protest is demanding solutions. Anyone who can't bring solutions must kindly leave his seat for those who can. As far as I'm concerned, let the prime minister and his cabinet remain in power forever, as long as there is welfare here and the public's problems are solved.

Is this going to be the new Tahrir Square? Will there be a big demonstration here every week?

I'm not in a position to know. It's hard for me to say what's going to happen every week and to commit myself to that, or to provide bombastic names. This is the boulevard of the tents .... This is Habima Square and not Tahrir Square. We conduct ourselves a little bit differently from the way Tahrir Square does.

Our aspiration is indeed to bring about change, to bring about a solution to the housing problem. If you walk around here in the tent city, you'll hear voices that want to deal with other problems, too. We're concentrating on housing because a man's home is his castle. If you undermine that, you undermine everything.

There's a feeling that the protest doesn't have one established leader. Who makes the decisions?

The protest is a popular protest. The leader of a popular protest is usually born at a suitable time and place. It usually doesn't happen through elections or some artificial coronation. At present there's a group of organizers who are navigating things and making sure the event reaches the media, that there will be a discussion, and they are promoting this. There are also very extensive logistics here.

The bottom line is that no big organization is behind this, one that really knows how to direct and produce an event. Everything is the result of people who volunteer and are prepared to lend a hand and contribute a few shekels, or other contributions that are equivalent to money. The back of the stage on Saturday was spray-painted - not something serious, not some kind of brand name. That's who we are.

What led to the clashes with the police? Did you cross red lines or were the police's responses exaggerated?

I wasn't present at the beginning of the event with the police. From what I saw, the dispersal was quiet, but a handful of people remained there who were very heated up emotionally and wanted to act. I arrived after about half an hour, when there was already friction and excitement with the police. They contacted me and asked me for help. Someone there threw a firecracker or a smoke bomb, and they also threw a glass of beer at a senior officer. I ran over there and tried to calm things down. The people stopped and listened to what I had to say. Some of them chose to continue to Dizengoff Street. Others accepted my point of view and went back to the tent city or went home.

The reason this protest is receiving such great empathy and so much legitimacy is because of the nature of the protest. At the moment, anyone can identify with it because there are no signs of violence. I'm not personally against blocking roads, but that has to be done in a smart way, in a place where it can have an effect. There is no need to block Ibn Gvirol Street at 2 A.M. because, other than disturbing the neighbors, it doesn't really promote any cause.

How would you expect the police to act when someone blocks streets? They should let chaos reign in the streets?

Of course not. Things must not be allowed to get out of control. There is no problem with arrests, that's okay. When roads are blocked, the police must not be violent. But the demonstrators must not oppose and attack the police.

Do you believe that the protest must get tougher?

Everything at the right time. I think our sitting in tents is threatening the government enough.

Aren't you afraid that if you make do with sitting in tents you'll disappear from the public debate?

We'll have to find the way to do it properly and give expression to the people who are sitting at the site, who are in tents, because they're the story. It's impossible to ignore the tent protest and its scope when it's growing. Mahatma Gandhi's Salt March was very quiet and nonviolent, but it eventually led to the end of British rule in India.

How much longer will the tent protest continue? Do people have the strength to stay here in the heat for more weeks or months?

We have the strength at the moment. For the time being, we're here to stay.

What would make you dismantle the tent city and go home? What would be considered a success?

A concrete, serious and thorough solution to the housing problem that includes all aspects of the problem - the price of rentals, the price of buying an apartment, public housing, assisted-living facilities. It cuts across all communities, and there are real problems here. The plans are on the desks of the relevant ministers and on the prime minister's desk. Apparently he, and they, have chosen to ignore them.