Blame Politics for the Israeli Housing Crisis

Do the young people who marched Saturday night from Habima Square need to ask where we, their parents, were when the politicans sold the country out from under them?

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

"Father, whose side were you on when they were selling our country?" asks a baby in a picture during a protest at Syntagma Square in Athens. The sign caught the eye of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who visited Athens to better understand the economic-political crisis that has engulfed the country.

Do the young people who marched Saturday night from Habima Square need to ask where we, their parents, were when the politicians sold the country out from under them? Well, my dear Daphni Leef, one of the organizers of the housing protest, it's not just Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with his wild and irresponsible policy, who brought us to this point. It's also us, your fathers and mothers, who stood on the sidelines.

Our parents, those of the baby boom generation, children of the hope of the mid-to-late 1940s, established an admirable Jewish democratic state. Their grandparents built cities, paved roads and shaped institutions of government, education, health and welfare. They absorbed immigrants (yes, they also made mistakes ), and bolstered our defense against external threats. With the help of military power and moral strength given us by our fathers and mothers - many of them survivors of the inferno - Israel won in six days a military campaign on three fronts.

The day after the victory they told us that they were waiting for a telephone call from the Arabs. They promised us that when our neighbors offered their hand in peace, we would give them back the land. Since then we have stood aside while they sell peace for land.

We did not take to the streets when Golda Meir turned her back on Anwar Sadat and King Hussein. We stayed at home when Yitzhak Shamir fended off the London Agreement with the Jordanians and the Palestinians. We did not protect Yitzhak Rabin or the Oslo Accords. We stood and watched as Netanyahu rode the dark waves of Arab terrorism all the way to the prime minister's desk. Most of us submitted to Ehud Barak's lie of "there is no partner" and bought willingly Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, without an agreement with the Palestinians. We passed when the historic Arab peace initiative was proposed - nearly 10 years ago.

For the past 44 years we have sent our children, and soon our grandchildren, to protect with their bodies a piece of land that is not our own. Once in a while, a few refuse to serve in the territories. In the 1970s we turned the newspaper's pages indifferently, showing the photograph of Defense Minister Shimon Peres planting the first tree in Ofra. We listened with apathy to his decision to stick the settlement of Ariel in the Palestinians' throats like a bone.

Because Israel holds on to Yitzhar and Kiryat Arba, at the heart of the occupied territories, it spends more money on security, roads and public relations than it does on housing, education and health. The Haaretz report on the cost of settlements, published in September 2003, showed that the excessive civilian cost of the settlements is at least NIS 2.5 billion annually. The cost of extending the separation fence because of the settlements is expected to cost more than NIS 3 billion. The average military cost of using the Israel Defense Forces to hold the territory stands at NIS 2.5 billion per year.

Last week, the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies reported that Israelis pay 75 percent more tax for housing than citizens of other OECD countries. This is not only a relevant figure on the situation of the people in tents on Rothschild Boulevard, it's a blatantly political figure. Instead of investing a substantial portion of these tax revenues to develop settlements, real estate taxes could be lowered.

The Rabin government's decision in 1992 to divert budgets from settlements to the construction of public buildings inside Israel was a political decision, as was the Netanyahu government's decision in 2009 to grant settlements the status of preferred development areas. For their children not to sit in protest tents in the city square in 20 years and ask - "mother, whose side were you one when they sold our country?" - Daphni Leef and her friends need to understand that politics is the name of the game.



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