If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Monday, July 25, 2011

ISRAEL REVOLT - Protesters block streets in Tel Aviv after landmark rally

For the past week, hundreds of people have been gathering on the uppermost edge of the Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, close to the recently renovated national theatre plaza. Starting with a tiny group of friends who pitched their tents there in protest of Tel Aviv’s exorbitant rent prices, the movement has grown exponentially, both on the original protest site – every day, several more tents spring up as more and more people move in – and throughout the country. Camps have been struck not only in the big cities – Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’er Sheva – but in the forever-struggling border town of Kiryat Shmona, the tiny community of Tel Hai, and elsewhere.

The protest has struck a chord with hundreds, if not thousands, of Israelis. My generation (people in their late 20’s) constitute the first, second or third generation of complete indebtedness. Most of our parents bought the homes we grew up in with mortgages, taken out before we were born and still unreturned. Those of us planning to buy homes and raise families are likely to become similarly enslaved to the banking system, because very few of us are likely to make enough money by the time we are, say, 30, to actually buy a home ourselves – even in the most remote and punishing suburb.

Moreover, Israel’s extremely lax credit rules and remorseless credit card spending culture means most Israeli households are regularly overdrawn on their bank accounts; I know that most of my friends – educated young professionals, many working for top media organisations, academia, the arts, or even high-tech – usually hold their head above the zero line in their bank accounts for the first week or two of every month. Many of those who can boast a positive balance in their running accounts are thousands, if not tens of thousands of shekels in debt – whenever you go above, say, NIS 10k in your running account or get about NIS 5k overdrawn, despite earning well enough, you get a call from an extremely nice banker who offers you a 20 or 30k loan, spread out over several lifetimes with an intimidating interest rate. Accumulating the hundreds of thousands of shekels requested to buy a modest young family flat in said suburbia is therefore out of the question for most of us, and most of us, indeed, gave up on the idea long ago.

But what’s pushing people now onto the street is nothing as fanciful as one’s own property; it’s the rent and overall living costs. Mercer ranked Tel Aviv as the most expensive city in the Middle East already three years ago, and since then rent prices have been soaring. According to Ynet, since 2008, rent in Tel Aviv has risen by at between 17 and 20 percent; in Be’er Sheva, by 40 percent. Jerusalem, with its expansionist construction and the municipality’s subsidies scheme, was affected far less, but the cost of living anywhere within easy access to university campuses or middle-class working places is still preposterously high. I myself hardly know anyone in my peer group, in either of the big cities, who spends less than 40 to 50 percent of their mean income on rent if they live alone, and about 30 percent if they share with flatmates.

Continue reading - Tent city protest: It’s politics, but not as usual

It’s hard to write clearly and concisely about the struggle waged in Israel’s streets and squares for the past few days. It’s hard to write about it reservedly, and maybe it’s for the best. So many years have past since we dared to hope for something better. A decade and a half of weary shrugs, of “that’s the way it is,” of a trance-like state covering up over hopelessness. Because that’s the way it is.

And suddenly everything is aflame. People are sleeping in boulevards, on the squares, on the lawns. Processions go marching through the city, and people are shouting with hoarse throats – give us back our dignity. Did we ever have dignity? I can’t remember.

1. At the entrance to the tent-packed boulevard I opened up my purse, folded up the cynicism I carry around for survival purposes, and shoved it deep inside. Today, I told myself, I’ll only watch and look. With an open heart.

2. For two years now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been telling us about Israel’s blooming economy. Quietly, to myself, I was thinking that it does seem like everything is flourishing. It’s only me that manages to buy less and less, and I probably didn’t work enough this month. Freelancers are quickly punished for their sins, and it may even be right, from time. But then came the cottage cheese protest – which succeeded, and then failed; and then the tents, and on Thursday the harsh, marvelous news of the brave medical residents, who are loathe to violate either the law of the Hippocratic Oath, but they can’t go on anymore. They hospitalize themselves in their own hospitals, to pressure the system without violating the court orders not to leave work. They go on hunger strikes. They are escalating the struggle. The lie has survived for two years, but no longer.

3. I went to the boulevard just to have a look. It seemed to me a little like a festival. Strange. I walked, I looked, I listened. I heard friends of mine speak at the tent and I was filled with pride – did I know I had such impressive friends? I did not. I’m sure some of them didn’t know they were like that, either. Eventually I also spoke there, and I will speak again. I sat down for long conversations with the veterans of the Bread Square protest, and with a social worker who came to express solidarity and sleep at the tent camp, and meanwhile found herself helping four homeless people who also found their way here. We were sitting on a couch near the main tent at 11pm. A man walked up to us, a reasonably nice man, with a light French accent. What’s going on here, he asked. We looked at him as if he fell from the moon. I hesitated as I replied – maybe he’s mocking me, maybe he’s just a tourist. “I’ve been living rough on the street for four months now,” he said. “I didn’t know it was happening here, all this mess. A friend came by here and he told me something was on.” So we told him what was on, told him this place, here, was for him, and sent him to eat something at the communal kitchen. The stunned look on his face reminded me I couldn’t believe it a week ago either. I still can’t, from time to time. Did we really take to the streets? Really?

4. There’s no place I’d rather be now. There, in the squares, small flowerbeds are springing – of hopes, of shy, confused smiles. And I hear the words repeat themselves:

So beautiful.

I can’t believe it.

Is this real?

How did this happen?

Tell me it won’t go away.

Continue reading - Tent protest: Why we march tonight

See also: It’s all about real-estate: Understanding the tent protests

Tens of Thousands in Israel Protest Rising Prices

Revolu Zion - A Revolution in Tel Aviv 2011- A Fim by Assi Rose

לא עוצרים באדום - העם רוצה צדק חברתי!!!

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