Tents Are Back as Israelis Launch Nationwide Housing Protest

Tents have been set up in several Israeli cities to protest housing costs that far outpace salaries, echoing the widespread 2011 cost-of-living demonstrations: 'We can't continue like this'

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, Sunday.
Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, Sunday.Credit: Hadas Parush
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Protesters throughout Israel have set up tents in the street to decry the country's sky-high housing costs, reminiscent of the massive cost-of-living demonstrations that swept the country in 2011.

"People can’t make ends meet each month, and rent is an unbearable burden," said Yotam Harpaz, 23, a protest organizer in Tel Aviv, adding that many students have also been complaining that they can't afford tuition payments.

Unlike the 2011 protests, which began with encampments on one of Tel Aviv's toniest boulevards, this demonstration started in northern town Pardes Hanna-Karkur, near Haifa. Others followed in southern Be’er Sheva and then the central cities of Holon and Rosh Ha’ayin, with coordination over social media.

“I rent an apartment with my partner, and we know we’ll never be able to buy a house," said Ido Attias, 27, from Be’er Sheva. "There is a wider problem here, a housing crisis that has been with us for too many years. It’s time our leaders dealt with it."

On Sunday evening protesters set up 10 tents in Tel Aviv’s wealthy Rothschild Boulevard, and Jerusalem tents are planned for Monday.

Protesters set up tents in Tel Aviv, Sunday.Credit: Hadas Parush

The Tel Aviv protesters plan to stay on Rothschild for several days, and a big rally is scheduled for July 2 in the city's Habima Square, an event that is picking up steam on Facebook: 20,000 people have indicated they plan to participate or are interested.

A Tel Aviv protest leader, Ido Bin-Nun, 23, said the gaps between wages and rent have only increased since 2011. “Apartment owners coordinate prices," he said. "Realtors pounce on every apartment. There are many things that are broken and flawed in Israel’s housing system. People are suffering quietly, but it’s time to shout."

"We can't continue like this," said Harpaz. "This is not 2011. We are not children. We have demands. There is no naïve belief that we can yell in the streets and then there will be change. We’re making concrete demands."

Bin-Nun echoed this, adding that among the lessons from 2011 is that that protest was insufficiently focused, with some using it for their own political gains.

Protest organizers say a list of demands is being crafted by a team that includes economists, to be published before the July 2 demonstration.

Arthur Gabay, one of the first Tel Aviv protesters, said the aim was to produce a better plan for resolving the crisis, and he believes an affordable housing plan would be a step in the right direction.

"This is not easy, and we don't have an immediate solution, but we will find solutions," Gabay said. "We won't attract the masses within a day or two, but we want to band together and explain that there is a problem. We want decision makers to listen to us. We're not invisible."

A protester on Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv, Sunday.Credit: Hadas Parush

Protesters said they have no particular party affiliation, although Hadar Mukhtar, 20, said she was heading a new youth party. The main lesson of 2011, in her view, is that activists should create new frameworks rather than join existing ones.

“Instead of dealing with bureaucrats, the government should be listening to young people," Mukhtar said. "My generation has been forgotten. We’re not represented in the Knesset."

Mukhtar said she intends to remain in the encampment for the next few weeks. "People ask, why protest again? But what can we do? Sit at home? ... It’s not just Tel Aviv and Gush Dan," she said, referring to the area around Tel Aviv. "It’s everywhere. Tel Aviv is too expensive for us, and today we're fighting over Beit Shemesh and the Golan Heights.”

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