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Israel’s tent protests not folding up yet

Crowds seeking social reform head home as summer wanes

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Posted on: 
7 Sep 2011
Israel’s tent protests not folding up yet

Thousands of tent protesters who have spent the summer camped out in public places across Israel are not yet ready to fold up their movement for social reforms and will continue this autumn to demand urgent government action on stemming the high costs of living and lack of affordable housing.

On Tuesday, activists behind the movement held a press conference in Jerusalem where they laid out the way forward after their protest movement peaked last weekend with the “March of the Million.” The numbers were not that high, but an impressive 400,000 Israelis gathered for demonstrations in several large cities on Saturday evening, with Tel Aviv drawing the largest crowd and Jerusalem recording a respectable 50,000 demonstrators in Paris Square.

With most of the country settling back into the normal routine of work and school following the summer break, the tent protesters are looking for other ways to keep the momentum for social reform going. One method presented on Tuesday is to focus on the 2012 state budget, and make sure that the government earmarks enough funds for important issues such as housing, education and health care. This coming Saturday, a new approach called “1000 round tables” will be tried out, as a thousand tables will be set up all across Israel for people to sit down and discuss the way forward.

Barak Segel, a lead activist in the social protest movement, was satisfied with the large number of demonstrators this weekend. “The entire people of Israel have stepped out of their houses to protest. This is one small step for the people of Israel, one giant step for the country,” he said.

“From my point of view, the atmosphere is amazing here,” added Roee Neumann, an informal spokesman for the tent protesters. “It could be that the campsites become more concentrated and consolidated, but they won’t be folded up. The protest will keep on going and only get stronger until our demands are met.” He also noted that while the mass protests may not be sustainable, there are many different ways to get the message across, such as boycotts.

While many of the tent protesters were typically portrayed as carefree young adults, the events on Saturday evening drew a wide mix of people from different age groups and cultural backgrounds, including teenagers, mothers, and grandparents, along with both religious and secular Israelis.

A special committee has been set up by the Netanyahu government to hear public complaints, study the growing gap in rich and poor, and recommend to the cabinet within the next couple weeks what actions need to be taken to bring down the spiraling costs of living and put more affordable housing on the market. Meantime, even many Arab commentators have been noting how peaceful the Israeli democratic protests were in comparison to the mass protests and rioting in the Arab world this year.


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