Housing Activists Hope for Record Numbers at Saturday Protest

Protest marches, demonstrations and rallies in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Galilee are planned for the weekend.

Protest leaders plan a massive rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night, hoping to top the 150,000 who came out nationwide a week earlier. It will be the third Saturday night in a row of mass protests, under the slogan "the government has abandoned the people."

Over the weekend, there will be protest marches, demonstrations and rallies in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Galilee.

Teachers and students marching - Michal Fattal - 05082011
Michal Fattal

At 2 P.M. Friday Jewish and Arab activists will demonstrate at the Kabri junction in the Western Galilee. Two hours later in Tel Aviv, protest leaders will read the Declaration of Independence out loud on Rothschild Boulevard.

The weekend's main event will take place in Tel Aviv tomorrow night at 9 P.M. as demonstrators march from Habima Square, near the tent city on Rothschild Boulevard, to the Kirya defense compound on Kaplan Street, where they will hold the rally.

This time the organizers decided to hold the demonstration outside the Kirya rather than on the square at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Singers Yehudit Ravitz and Rita are to appear at the rally.

Kaplan Street will be closed to traffic and the speakers' addresses will be broadcast on large screens on both sides of the street. At the same hour, 9 P.M., a large procession will head off from Jerusalem's Menorah Park to Zion Square, where a rally will be held.

Roi Noiman, one of the protest leaders, said the demonstration's central message will be "the government has abandoned the people," in the wake of the Knesset's legislation to form housing committees and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ignoring of the protesters' demands.

"The people are taking the country back," he said. "We're expecting a powerful demonstration for social change. This is an opportunity we haven't had for 60 years in this country, and now is the time for people to come out of their homes onto the street."

Hundreds of parents took part in stroller marches across the country yesterday, protesting against the high cost of raising children in Israel. University lecturers, teachers, taxi drivers, dairy farmers, students and youth-movement members joined the nationwide protests against the spiraling cost of living and low pay.

Some 500 parents marched with strollers and children in Tel Aviv, 500 in Kiryat Motzkin, 400 in Herzliya and hundreds in the West Bank settlement Ariel.

About 400 parents and their children from the coastal region marched from Herzliya's Chen Boulevard to Ben Shefer Park, where they flew kites and drew on canvas, calling for social justice.

"I've never demonstrated or gone out onto the street. Today I felt there was a river of people behind me who want to change something," said Sharon Katz, a mother of a 2-year-old from Herzliya.

"My husband and I are both academics, and when we both worked we had an income of NIS 13,000 and couldn't make ends meet. Now I see that everyone has this problem. Our protest is just the beginning."

A day after Netanyahu dismissed the protest as "a populist wave," Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon said the protest was "justified. People are crying out in pain and we should listen to them."

Speaking at a National Insurance Institute conference in Ramat Gan, Kahlon said the cabinet has a chance to rectify wrongs and advance social change. "Social justice is based on a fair distribution of taxes and fair means; taking from the strong and giving to the weak, like imposing higher taxes on companies and reducing indirect taxes on the public," he said.

Another protest took place outside the headquarters of the Histadrut labor federation in Tel Aviv, where Chairman Ofer Eini addressed a rally of youth movements and students.

Elsewhere in Tel Aviv, about 1,500 university lecturers, students, teachers and youth-group members marched on Rothschild Boulevard. They made their way to the house of Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, calling out, "Free education for all."

"Sa'ar, wake up, education is worth more" and "free education for all," the protesters shouted as they marched. They protested the employment of thousands of lecturers by manpower contractors, the absence of social rights and low pay.

Dr. Esther Sarouk, chairwoman of the junior academic staff at Hebrew University, said the social protest reminded her of the Zionist revolution. "It seems that every day we are moving further away from the vision of a just, fair country," she said. "We won't rest until the bad system you brought to the Education Ministry is changed. No values, no decency, no quality in education. Only the bottom budget line counts - to pay teachers and lecturers as little as possible."

The Tel Aviv stroller marchers headed to Gan Meir, where they held a rally protesting the high cost of living. Their demands included extending maternity leave to six months, lowering taxes on families with children, supervising the prices of basic baby products, and giving a child's sick days a status similar to a parent's sick leave.

Yael Barda, one of the stroller march organizers, rejected claims by Eini and members of the treasury that demanding free education for children aged 10 and over is unreasonable. "We suggest the treasury sit back down in front of their laptops and recalculate, because we aren't going anywhere," she said.

Barda called on the protesters to continue taking to the streets and demonstrating against the high cost of living. "We've held back for a long time. Treasury clerks and the government have buried all the social laws over the last 20 years. We're not cynical. We have dreams and we're going to change this country," she said.

Parents taking part in the stroller marches called out "The people demand social justice" and "We won't give up, reduce prices."

In Kiryat Motzkin, the protesters blocked the road near Hatotach Square and the municipality, with police approval.

Earlier in the day some 100 protesters marched to Haifa's Talpiot market, calling for a narrowing of social gaps, a better welfare state and the rehabilitation of the city center both socially and physically.

The market vendors and demonstrators called on Eini to launch a general workers' strike in support of the struggle.

The encampment organizers in Haifa said protesters would join the central protest rally in Tel Aviv Saturday.

Taxi drivers joined the wave of demonstrations sweeping the country, blocking a main Tel Aviv road in protest against the high price of diesel fuel.

Early Thursday morning, hundreds of taxi drivers parked in the busy intersection of Kaplan and Menachem Begin streets. After blocking the road for several minutes, they drove slowly toward north Tel Aviv where they plan on holding a rally.

Jews and Arabs are planning a large demonstration at the Kabri junction in the Western Galilee today in protest against the high cost of living and spiraling housing prices.

Gadi Shabtai, one of the protest organizers, has been calling on people on Facebook to join the demonstration.

Activists from encampments in the villages Horfesh and Yarka as well as women's groups and Jewish and Arab women activists in the Galilee have said they will join the protest.

The Nahariya police initially approved the demonstration, which had been planned for the town's main intersection. But due to the many people expected to take part, the police asked organizers to move the protest location to the Kabri junction.

"This is a chance to prove that the protest isn't only in Tel Aviv but in the periphery as well, especially in places like the Galilee. This time we'll stand together - Jews, Arabs and Druze - against the rising prices and the housing shortage," Shabtai said.

"I hope everyone joins us because there are no disagreements among us on these fundamental issues."