Netanyahu Cancels Poland Visit as Housing Protests Take Israel by Storm

Activists block roads in Jerusalem, Haifa and Be'er Sheva; new initiative calls for a general strike on August 1 to protest high housing prices.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled his scheduled visit to Poland this week following mass housing protests that have been gaining momentum in various cities across Israel.

The Polish prime minister's office said Israel has asked to postpone the one-day visit scheduled for Wednesday, in which Netanyahu was going to try to convince Warsaw to vote against a UN resolution recognizing a Palestinian state, Israeli sources have said.

Netanyahu's cancellation was likely caused as a result of the rising housing crisis in Israel and the mass protests that have sprouted in various cities. Netanyahu most probably feared that his trip abroad would have amplified the public protest, in which demonstrators have largely blamed Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

The prime minister's office said that Netanyahu's visit was canceled so he could make it to the vote on a bill aimed at enabling reforms in the planning and building industry.

Meanwhile on Monday, dozens of activists blocked major roads in Haifa, Jerusalem and Beer Sheva as part of the housing crisis protests. In central Haifa, scuffles broke out between activists and drivers who were forced to stop. Eight activists were arrested in Paris Square in Jerusalem after refusing to clear the road.

Earlier Monday, dozens of activists blocked a road at the entrance to the Knesset. Five were arrested and one police officer was lightly injured.

Meanwhile, a new Facebook protest page went up Monday calling for a general strike on August 1. So far more than 3,700 people said they will participate. The page was created by social activist Zvika Basor, a 36-year-old Givatayim resident and father of a one-year-old baby. He wrote that he bought an apartment "with a crazy 30-year mortgage," and explained why he decided to go on strike: "I am sick of it. I can't keep going to work every day as if nothing is happening, pretending that if I work hard enough I'll be able to provide a decent life for my family and myself."

Another Facebook protest page created Monday called for a "tent city strollers march." The organizers called on fathers, mothers and single parents to march in central Tel Aviv on Thursday with their children and strollers.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched in downtown Tel Aviv to protest rising housing prices, the first major demonstration in a movement calling attention to Israel's soaring cost of living.

Housing protesters block Tel Aviv road - Tali Mayer - July 25, 2011
Tali Mayer