Aug 1, 2011
Tens of thousands of Israelis coming from all over the country demonstrated in Tel Aviv on July 23rd. They protested against the country’s high cost of housing, which has risen in a spectacular fashion. In Tel Aviv rents have increased by 73% in six years! It’s become almost impossible for students and low-wage workers to find decent housing at a reasonable cost.
Financial speculators have free rein to profit when affordable housing is scarce. Whether it’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing administration or his Labor Party predecessors, all of them devoted an increasing share of the Israeli budget to military expenses, which are 7% of the Gross Domestic Product. This amount is two to three times higher than military spending in most big western countries. Israel has also spent considerable funds on the huge wall separating Israel from the West Bank. And the government continues to build housing and infrastructure for the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Meanwhile, public services have been cut in many categories.
The mobilization began two weeks ago when a 24-year-old woman had to move because she couldn’t pay an enormous rent increase for her small apartment in Tel Aviv. She made an appeal on the Internet, calling on Israelis to set up tents in the middle of Rothschild Boulevard, in a really wealthy part of Tel Aviv. To her great surprise, in a few days, many youth responded to her appeal and the movement spread like wildfire in Israel’s other big cities. It became popular probably thanks to earlier protests – like a recent one to eliminate an increase in the gas tax. Another protest led to a reduction in the price of cottage cheese, a staple in the Israeli diet.
There have been almost no important social protests in Israel for quite a while. Even if the current discontent has its limits, it’s good to see a part of the population mobilize in this way. Sooner or later the population must refuse to go on paying the price for the warlike policy of Israel’s ruling class.