Middle class Israelis take to the streets declaring, ‘we can’t make ends meet’
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On Thursday morning hundreds of taxis blocked one of Tel Aviv’s main roads, in the afternoon parents in cities across the country took to the streets in a 'stroller march'. They are all angry about the high cost of living in Israel and unite around one rallying cry: “The People Want Social Justice.” Protesters are now gearing up for what they hope will be the biggest march yet on Saturday evening. Our Observers tell us why they're protesting...
On Thursday morning hundreds of taxis blocked one of Tel Aviv’s main roads, in the afternoon parents in cities across the country took to the streets in a 'stroller march'. They are all angry about the high cost of living in Israel and unite around one rallying cry: “The People Want Social Justice.” Protesters are now gearing up for what they hope will be the biggest march yet on Saturday evening.
Israel’s economy may be growing, but many Israelis aren’t happy. The country has one of the highest poverty rates and income gaps in the developed world. With housing, food and fuel prices surging, many middle-class Israelis report that they’re struggling financially.
Taking their cue from Spain’s “indignados” and other similar protests in Europe – and, according to our Observers, in some ways from the Arab Spring - protesters have set up tents in cities across Israel. They say they are ready to protest as long as it takes for the government to listen to their grievances.
This video, posted on Youtube by ElvinConcepts, shows the tent protests' growth along Rothschild Street in Tel Aviv, as well as last weekend's night marches.
Marches have been held in cities throughout Israel. This video, posted by Orenpa11, shows protesters marching through Haifa on July 30.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose approval ratings have dropped since the protests’ started nearly three weeks ago, seems to have taken note. Last week, he outlined emergency housing reforms, though these were dismissed as spin by many protesters, who continue to camp out and hold marches every day. Netanyahu also pledged to form a team of ministers to come up with policies to “ease the economic burden on Israeli citizens.” But he warned against “irresponsible and populist steps that could bring the country to the situation of certain countries in Europe, which have reached the brink of bankruptcy and mass unemployment.”
This video, "Bibi Shake," has gone viral online. The remix, by Noy Alooshe, contrasts prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (nicknamed "Bibi") telling a reporter Israel is a stable country with no protests, with footage of protesters chanting "The People Want Social Justice."
“Without help from our parents, we wouldn’t be able to get by”
Ohad Milchgrub is a web developer and father of two who lives in Tel Aviv.
It all started on Facebook. I saw the call for the tent protest and decided to go and check it out. It grew incredibly fast. On the first night it started out with four or five tents; through the night about 30 more were set up. And it kept growing. Every day now, a new block gets occupied by tents.
I have two children, and both my wife and I work pretty good jobs. Yet we can’t make ends meet. Without help from our parents, we wouldn’t be able to get by. The cost of living is so high. Day care for our children eats up a third of our combined salaries. The general feeling is that the government works for the few rich families who control Israel’s economy, while the rest of us are being forgotten.
I think that in a subliminal way, protesters have been very influenced by what’s happening all around us, in Tunisia, Syria, and Egypt. We’ve seen how people are taking control of their own fates. Even though Israel is probably much better off than these countries, and we have basic freedoms, we don’t feel we are being treated justly on the economic front.”
The sign on the tent reads, "We didn't come to protest, we came to offer solutions!" Photo posted to Twitpic by @Mamoudinijad.
“People are very angry, but very hopeful too. No one expected [the protests] to swell like this”
Imri Fisher is a psychology intern who lives in Tel Aviv.
I’m a psychology intern, and my wife is a physician. Before the big protests started, there was the doctors’ protest. That’s been going on for several months now, so they joined in with the bigger protests.
Doctors are angry because the public health sector is terrible. People have to wait months for surgeries, and there aren’t enough beds in hospitals. People aren’t getting what they need.
What’s also led to the doctors’ anger is that twice a week, interns have to work 30 hour shifts, with no breaks. It’s inhumane. People see doctors who haven't slept.
As for psychological services, they’re not getting the funds needed. The money is drying up. Right now, if a child has problems in school, he’s becoming violent, well he’ll likely have to wait about a year before he receives any counselling. As interns, we’re treated like slaves. Internships last four years, and I get paid less than the minimum wage, even though I work for the public sector. It’s absurd.
I think people are very angry, but very hopeful. The protests began with just a few people in tents a few weeks ago – no one expected it to swell like this.
My fear is that a missile will arrive from Gaza, and then the whole thing will be forgotten. That will be the biggest test for the protesters.”
The woman's sign reads, "Psychologist and Doctor -earning 2,150 shekels per month" (about 430 euros). Photo courtesy of Imri Fisher.
“I came home to my wife and said, ‘this is serious’”
Eran Kalimi is a video editor who lives in Giva’at Yearim, near Jerusalem. He has two young children.
I work in Tel Aviv, so I went to check out the protests at the beginning. I’m not really big on protests, but when I realised that people were doing it for good reasons, that these people were from all walks of life – left wing, right wing, from the settlement, Palestinians, young and old – I came home to my wife and said, ‘This is serious. We should do it.’ Our whole family went on the 'stroller walk' in Jerusalem last Sunday to protest the high cost of child care.
In my line of work [as a video editor], I have to work in Tel Aviv, but I can’t live there, nor in Jerusalem. It’s much too expensive. My commute can take up to two and a half hours, depending on how the buses are running.
My entire salary goes toward day care for my two kids, who are aged two and four. Half of my wife’s [who works as a webmaster] goes toward the rent. And then we still need to pay for health care, social security, taxes, and so forth.
Economic growth is nice and everything, it’s nice that the state and the treasury and the rich have a lot of money, but it doesn’t really benefit most citizens.
I hope the government will make long term plans to fix education and transportation, make lower rents available to students, and help families buy their first homes. But what I think will happen, is that there will be a war or a missile strike, and they’ll say ‘there’s a war going on, so we need to invest in defence, we can’t be divided now’.”
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure.
Parents in Tel Aviv (pictured here) and in Jerusalem went on 'stroller marches' both last week and again on Thursday to protest the high costs of raising children in Israel.