For Some Israelis, the Dream Apartment Is a Truck, a Tent or a Hut

Just like Ken Ilgunas in the United States, Israelis are creating their own housing that's a lot more posh than you might expect.

In the past year, American student Ken Ilgunas has become famous for his pieces in Salon.com and The New York Times. He explains how he completed an MA without becoming mired in debt. For two years he lived in an old van in a distant parking lot at Duke University, cooked his suppers on a gas burner and showered in the campus fitness room. Dark curtains concealed the little apartment he had set up. He later published a book on his experiences, "Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom."

Back in Israel, one of the main reasons for the 2011 social protest was the high price of real estate, whether buying or renting. And these prices have only gotten higher. But while most Israelis are forced to bear the burden, others are like Ilgunas: They refuse to accept a situation in which they can only dream of buying a home.

One of them is Yossi Tayar, whose lives in a prime area of Tel Aviv only a few meters from the sea. When he wakes up in the morning he's greeted by the sound of waves. Ordinary people have to pay millions for such a quality of life – but Tayar doesn't pay a thing. He's living free of charge in one of the most beautiful places in Israel because his home is a 12-ton truck in a parking lot by the sea. He doesn't have to pay property tax and has no electricity or water bills. Even the parking is free.

Don't let the word "truck" fool you; Tayar's house is a bourgeois dream made of wood and covered by solar panels, a jewel more reminiscent of the compact luxury apartments seen in lifestyle magazines. The interior, which Tayar built himself, includes a work area, a sitting area for guests, a dining area, a small room for his 11-year-old daughter, a small storage area, a fully equipped kitchen and a sleeping area with a full-size double bed. The solar panels provide most of the electricity, and the water comes from an 800-liter container that Tayar fills once every three weeks.

Tayar, who is in his early 50s, has been living in the truck for three years. But it wasn't poverty that dictated this lifestyle; he's a successful animator, sculptor and painter. He simply wants his freedom. The project cost NIS 800,000, a quarter of the price of a Tel Aviv apartment by the sea. Now he's focusing on a more ambitious initiative: launching a community of people living in trucks in a common space.

A bit like Aspen

When you approach Shahar Ohev-Zion's home on Moshav Beit Nehemia near Lod, the first thing you notice is that the place is round and very tall. Ohev-Zion, a carpenter, lives in a yurt, a traditional cone-shaped Mongolian tent that in the past 20 years has been migrating to Western countries, mainly the United States. It has become popular with adventure lovers.

Ohev-Zion's tent is breathtaking. The yurt is four meters tall and covers 63 square meters. The walls are supported by large wooden beams that make the place look like a combination of a church and an Aspen vacation hut.

The house has a fully equipped kitchen, including a refrigerator and a large bathtub in a room separated from the main area by a plaster wall. It has an air conditioner and is connected to the electricity grid. The home, which stands on family-owned land, was built by Ohev-Zion three years ago with Ido Dror, who has a yurt-constructing business, at a cost of NIS 100,000.

Dror Zohar, an importer of cacao products for organic-food stores, lives in a wooden hut with its own porch. The place is in Kadita, an unrecognized community in the Upper Galilee, built on the ruins of an Arab village that was abandoned in 1948. In recent decades the community has been attracting environmental activists and religious families that want to be close to nature.

Kadita was started in the 1980s by families forming an ecological commune on land belonging to the Israel Lands Authority. As a result, the legality of the housing is sometimes a gray area. Zohar rents his home and shares five dunams with a friend and a young couple living in a yurt next to him with their young son. Each of them pays only NIS 500.

Life in the great outdoors isn't simple, says Zohar. The cows eat the crops -- and you better watch out for the scorpions and snakes. Twice a year there are major sandstorms that block the sun.

"But I like it, it connects you to the weather and the seasons," says Zohar. "You appreciate electricity a little more." In the evening, the residents sit together at campfires and sing – "the old-fashioned type of television," Zohar laughs.

Nothing is more temporary than Julia Kurkova's house: an army-issue tent in the Ginat Shalom Adama compound in Klil near Nahariya. The community was once known as the Mayan community because the residents adopted the ancient Mayan calendar. The group officially disbanded last December 21 when the end of the world as predicted by the Mayans failed to arrive, though people are still living there.

Kurkova has lived in the tent for four years; before that she lived in Tel Aviv and made a living as a photographer. Today she produces Peace Garden Soaps in her tent and sells them to nature stores all over the country. She uses solar energy, doesn't pay rent and has no partners. Her significant other, a chiropractor, also lives in the compound.

There's no doubt, Kurkova's tent is in the heart of nature. To reach it you have to climb over rocks and take narrow paths full of thorny bushes. Again, mind the snakes and scorpions. Mind the mice, too, which get into the tent and chew whatever they can.

Her tent isn't particularly stable, and in the winter it's buffeted by winds. She knows that many people would mock her way of life, but she doesn't care. She's happy and has no intention of leaving.

Eyal Toueg