Israel's Social Protest Leaders Mull Pulling Up Stakes After 'March of Million' Rally

Leaders consider dismantling tent cities after mass demonstration scheduled for September 3, but local activists may well keep camps standing.

Social protest leaders are starting to discuss what to do about the tent camps scattered around the country once the summer's demonstrations come to a head with the "march of the million" scheduled for Saturday night.

They are considering a call to dismantle the tent cities after the march, which will include a mass rally at Tel Aviv's Kikar Hamedina. The leaders noted, however, that local activists may well ignore such a call and keep the camps standing. Moreover, there are many homeless people in the camps who have nowhere else to go.

The tent element of the protests has been waning. On Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, many of the tents stand empty. There are no longer activities, lectures and debates there, and at night the street is often quiet.

Although complaints from area residents have been piling up at city halls across the country, local authorities have made very few moves to take down tent cities.

Protest leaders said yesterday they will debate what comes next more extensively after Saturday night. On tap are protest marches in at least 50 cities, with major gatherings in Jerusalem, Haifa and Be'er Sheva as well as Tel Aviv.

The leaders have asked singers Eyal Golan, Shalom Hanoch, Sarit Hadad and the band Hadag Nahash to perform, but these acts have not yet confirmed.

Meanwhile, tent protesters from the south are continuing their march toward Jerusalem; yesterday they reached Moshav Kfar Ahim, home of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, and set up their tents.

"We came to Kfar Ahim because the transportation minister lives here," said Shani Edelstein, from the protest camp in Sderot. "We're demanding that he urgently improve transportation to the Negev as part of social justice, and to reduce the price of gasoline."

Yeruham council chief Michael Biton and 100 residents continued their own protest march to Jerusalem, where they plan to demand from the government another NIS 14 million annually for each of the next three years to cover Yeruham's deficit.

Mitzna on the march

They were joined by Biton's predecessor, Amram Mitzna, a candidate in the race to lead the Labor Party.

"There's no argument with the clerks in the treasury and the Interior Ministry that the budget approved for Yeruham, NIS 56 million, had an inherent deficit, since the local council's income is NIS 14 million less than that and it has no way to reduce the deficit right now," said Mitzna.

"Yeruham is well-run now. No one argues with that. The treasury refuses to give the NIS 14 million because it doesn't want to set a precedent. That's absurd; it constitutes contempt for and a betrayal of the town."

Jerusalem activists had planned to gather at midnight last night and pile bags of construction waste outside the Israel Lands Administration to protest what they say is the authorities' refusal to do anything about dilapidated buildings in the city's southwest.

At issue are some 2,500 apartments built right after the founding of the state, which some experts say are unsafe.