A Tale of Two Cities: The Differences Between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s Housing Protests

Jerusalem is a city of political and social protests, but a demonstration of 10,000 people, most of them young and secular, without a large sponsor is a rarity in the capital.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Jerusalem has seen much larger demonstrations than the housing protest that took place on Saturday night. All those, however, were rallies that were organized by large organizations that brought participants to Jerusalem by bus from Tel Aviv (if it was a left-wing demonstration ) or from the settlements (if the demonstration had been called by the right ); or they were demonstrations arranged at the command of one rabbi or another.

But a demonstration of 10,000 people, most of them young and secular, without a large sponsor is a rarity in Jerusalem.

Tent protesters in Jerusalem’s Horse Park — more serious than demonstrations in Tel Aviv.Credit: Michal Fattal

The organizers of the Jerusalem housing protest sat Sunday in the tent encampment in the capital's Horse Park and tried explain what the next objectives are, why they won't manage to finish their exams this year, and what differentiates them from their counterparts in Tel Aviv.

Compared to the Tel Aviv protest, the Jerusalem tent encampment is much more reliant on local political and social movements, most prominent among them the Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites ) and Hitorerut (Awakening ) organizations, two relatively new movements that have representatives on the city council.

The local student association and youth groups are also involved in the encampment, as is the left-wing Solidarity movement, which emerged from the battle over Palestinian evictions from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and is sharing its experience with political protests.

This is one reason why the atmosphere at the Jerusalem encampment is more serious and less carnival-like than the one in Tel Aviv. The leaders are experienced social activists who can fluently express their demands and their social-democratic worldview. They have produced position papers, bill proposals and other documents that they hope will provide an intellectual and practical basis for the housing demands of all the protesters.

"We are a battle headquarters here, not a music festival," said Rona Orovano, chairman of the Bezalel Academy Student Association and one of the leaders of the Jerusalem protest.

For years, young Jerusalemites have been suffering from a particularly severe housing crunch that has some unique characteristics - the diplomatic pressure not to build in the neighborhoods over the Green Line on the one hand, along with the trend of Haredi couples moving into cheaper, secular neighborhoods that has driven up the prices in these areas.

Added to this is the fact that thousands of apartments are owned by foreign residents who keep them empty so they will be available when they visit during the summer or Jewish holidays - apartments that are referred to locally as "ghost apartments."

All this has made it difficult for young people to rent in the capital while they study there, or to buy an apartment if they want to stay.

The tent protesters have formulated a list of housing demands from the government that includes requiring contractors to allot a certain percentage of projects to "affordable housing," blocking the proposed national housing committees bill, expanding the Mehir Lemishtaken program that awards land to developers who offer the lowest sale price for apartments, resuming construction of public housing, and more.

Like their counterparts elsewhere, many of the Jerusalem protesters are talking about "the next stage," expanding the struggle to include issues such as privatization, tax policies, education, health care and more. But, as with their counterparts elsewhere, one gets the impression that despite the power they have accumulated during a few short weeks and their determined statements, they don't really have a clear goal that, if achieved, would bring an end to the struggle.

Meanwhile, they are hoping that the protest will re-educate the Israeli public about its rights.

"We want a political party with a social-democratic platform, but the public still doesn't know what that means," said Orovano.

"The revolution is a revolution in society and in citizens' heads," added Amnon Rabinowitz, one of the protesters.

To date, the Jerusalem tent encampment has been largely secular, although the religious among them believe that a mass of religious protesters are on the verge of joining. To avoid causing any disruptions, encampment residents are careful not to start political arguments. The tent people are mostly between 25-30 years old, about half of them students who have sacrificed the second and third round of final exams on the altar of the revolution.

The encampment is very neat. There's a small bookcase with books on economics and society, a kitchen, a recycling corner, a recruiting booth and a place to conduct debates. A large net has been spread over the encampment to provide shade. At one end of the grassy area there's a large children's pool, where several children were splashing.

There are other encampments in the capital too - in Independence Park and Sachar Park in the center of the city, as well as in the neighborhoods of Kiryat Yovel and Ein Kerem.

"This protest won't end well," predicts Yair Fink, one of the leaders of the Jerusalem encampment. "Not everyone will be happy, they won't get everything they want.

"But the day after, they will join the big parties and will go out to vote," he adds. " And in the next election, or the one after that, there will be a revolution."



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