Even Modi'in, the 'Sleeping City,' Starts to Wake Up

Eran Hermoni returns each evening from the law firm where he works, with a white shirt and ironed pants, straight to tent number 8 in the tent city.

The social leader Menachem Begin has a street named after him in the Buchman neighborhood, which is named after the developer who built it, in the city of Modi'in. This is a new neighborhood at the edge of the city - grey, prestigious and quiet, especially after 10:30 p.m.

That is when a small and angry group of city residents gathered on Wednesday in front of 124 Menachem Begin Street. This is the hard core of the tent protest in Modi'in. They were looking for the resident of that address, Yariv Levin, an MK from Begin's Likud party, who voted in favor of the National Housing Committees Law, which the protesters strongly oppose.

Modi’in - Gili Cohen Magen - 05082011
Gili Cohen Magen

Without television cameras or other aides, with a single whistle and a sense of beat, 22 protesters stood in the dark on the sidewalk and shouted, "the people demand social justice."

Far removed from the images of sushi and water pipes, all those sitting in the tent protest in Modi'in are honorary members of the middle class, Israelis with families dreaming about making ends meet. Most of them pay rent for apartments in the city. As for owning an apartment, that is something that they can only dream about.

True, they are not hungry, but nearly all of them are disappointed, disconnected Israelis who swallow their shame and go out to shout loudly, for the first time in their lives, and for the first time in the history of this "city of the future."

At the entrance of the city they set up nearly 40 tents, and began a daily protest that culminated last Saturday night with 800 demonstrators.

Eran Hermoni returns each evening from the law firm where he works, with a white shirt and ironed pants, straight to tent number 8 in the tent city. "We had always watched the middle class having families, working hard, nearly breaking under the burden, and still staying home without feeling that they are capable of making a change. Now people are coming out of their holes and are fighting," he says. However, most of the residents of Modi'in, who along with Maccabim-Reut comprise a city of some 75,000 people, are not going out to protest. Very few heeded the call on Begin Street to "come down and join the protest; you too have debts." Only a few of the neighbors of MK Levin, froze like shadows by the windows, and looked down at the protest from a distance, keeping quiet, each to his own.

Some of those sitting in the tents feel like until recently they had been hiding a terrible secret: their overdraft. Nava Levy-Zaken, a single-mother who has three jobs in order to survive and support her three children, says that she has friends in the city, who share her situation, but who are keeping away from the protest out of shame.

On Wednesday, she and a friend complained that their children preferred to stay alone at home rather than come to the protest "out of fear that they would be looked at in a funny way in their classrooms."

A Modi'in resident who called himself Nissim, and who works for the city, said that "half the people in Modi'in cannot breath, but they cannot show it. Modi'in is 'the city of the future,' and its motto is to show on the outside the everything is wonderful."

The tent city in Modi'in is active at night because during the day everyone is at work. The hardcore protesters are some 30 people, who are joined by many youth on summer break from school, who sit around talking into the night. Suddenly the nation is gathering to talk, is in touch, an unusual sight in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and unfathomable in Modi'in which has its reputation as a "sleeping city."

But Dima Parsitch, one of the founders of the tent city, thinks that this is not enough. He is 38, married and a father of two, who sells expensive alcoholic drinks to the residents of Kfar Shmaryahu and Tel Aviv, but he is unable to make ends meet.

"I am the trouble-maker in the group," he admits.

On Wednesday he was thrown out of the city council meeting because he raised a banner demanding that the prime minister and the mayor take responsibility.