Tent Protests Spread in Israel as Far North as Lebanese Border

Protesters: 'We're the nouveaux poor: educated, intelligent, working and poor.'

The protest against high housing costs spread yesterday to additional cities, with local residents coming out in support of the mostly young protesters. Tents went up yesterday in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona.

protest - Moti Milrod - July 20 2011
Moti Milrod

The first protest in the Arab sector appeared yesterday, with a single tent outside of Tamra in Western Galilee.

Tents are also expected to go up today at Beit Berl College near Kfar Sava.

The protesters who spent the night in 10 tents near the Kfar Sava municipality, woke up yesterday morning to find the media waiting for them, but later on, local residents began to stop by. "People in their 50s, 60s and 70s are taking part in the protest," said Merav Raymond, 24, who organized the "tent city" protest in Kfar Sava.

Tents are expected to go up today at Beit Berl College, where students are fighting the rising cost of dorm rental. Chen Sharabi-Cohen, 31, a student of public administration at Beit Berl College, who had also spent time at Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard protest site, said: "We've had it; I'm living with my parents because I have nowhere else to live," he said.

Two-year-old Romi Shapira was running around among the tents. Her father, Shahar Shapira, came from nearby Hod Hasharon, where he said a tent protest would be starting soon.

"There are a lot of couples like us, with one or two children, who are struggling with living expenses... There's the term nouveau riche; well, we're the nouveau poor" - educated, intelligent, contributing to the state and still living like poor people," he said.

Muhammed Abu-Alhija, 25, a bachelor and informal educator, put up a tent at the entrance to the Western Galilee town of Tamra.

protest - Yaron Kaminsky - July 20 2011
Yaron Kaminsky

"We young Arabs also have to make our voice heard," he said. "I hope my cry will bring more and more young couples to support the struggle," he said.

According to a survey by the databank Rikaz, established by the NGO Galilee Society, half of the 55.2 percent of Arab families in Israel that will need housing in the coming decade, will will not be able to afford a place to live.

The group's director general, Baker Awawdy, said the situation in Arab communities is a lot worse because of the high percentage of poor people and lack of land for building.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acceded to a demand yesterday by MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash ) to halve the size requirement regarding a minimal planned number of dwellings in the new bill to streamline housing construction, from 200 to 100. Netanyahu also agreed to change the requirement that at least 80 percent of the new dwellings had to be built on state-owned land. Under the amendment, construction can be on privately-owned land. The original requirements had, in practice, eliminated Arab towns from eligibility.

In Jerusalem, there was barely room yesterday afternoon for the 10 tents that were taking up the little patch of grass near the Old City wall opposite IDF Square. Still, a big sign called on passersby to "bring a tent and join."

"This is only the beginning," the chairman of the Hebrew University Student Union, Itai Gutler, said. "Rental prices are almost as high in Jerusalem as in Tel Aviv, which is absurd, because there's nowhere near the quality of life in Jerusalem," he said.

Jerusalem Councilwoman Merav Cohen, 27, one of the protest's organizers in the capital said: "There is a mixture of people and movements who are partners to the struggle." Cohen said the government should stop trying to maximize its profits on state lands and offer lower-cost housing to young people.

Tents also went up yesterday in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, About 100 students from Tel Hai Academic College set up some 25 tents in the city's IDF Square, and said they would stay for as long as it took to advance the fight for affordable housing.

A number of the town's long-time residents joined the students.

Protesters sat in a large circle on the ground throughout most of Monday evening, discussing possible solutions.

Student Union chairman Aviad Rosenfeld said the monthly salary a student earned in Kiryat Shmona was about what a month's rent cost. "On the one hand they tell you it's expensive in Tel Aviv, come study in the outlying areas, but when you get here you find out there's no public transportation, housing is expensive and its hard to find a job," he said. Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka remarks to protesters at the site were greeted with applause. "It's important to me for students to live in Kiryat Shmona," Malka said. He pledged to move ahead housing solutions for young people. He said contractors were waiting to build in the city, but his hands were tied because the Israel Lands Administration was delaying things.