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Israeli housing protest makes no connection to the occupation

The current Israeli government’s focus on improving living standards in settlements and neglect of the rest of the Israel is a moral failure.

Saturday protest in Tel Aviv (Photo:Oren Ziv)

Saturday housing protest in Tel Aviv (Photo:Oren Ziv)

Israel is doing better than ever, I was told by a right wing activist just a few weeks ago. He is not alone in this belief. Many right wing activists argue that Netanyahu achieved most of his campaign promises. They claim that he kept Israel safe. He was successful in saving the economy in the midst of a worldwide recession. But most importantly he did not compromise with the Palestinians. The right wing activist I spoke to, pointed out to the small numbers showing up at the Leftist protests as proof that most Israelis are satisfied with the current government’s policies and actions.

On July 15 Hanoch Daum wrote on Ynetnews that Israel is doing just fine. He pointed to a verity of facts and statistics that supported the claim of Israel living its golden are.

After all, what’s really happening in Israel at this time? The unemployment rate is at a 20-year low, last month the number of tourists who arrived in Israel was the highest in more than a decade, and the personal security situation is the best we have seen here in the past 30 years or so. Generally speaking, people no longer fear terrorism as they did in the past and they also do not feel that they are about to lose their jobs.

This argument doesn’t hold water anymore. It seems like many Israelis didn’t receive Mr. Daum’s memo about Israel’s golden era. On Saturday tens of thousands protested the housing problem in Tel Aviv. The main squares in Israel have become tent cities. Medical doctors and students are protesting their working conditions as the prices of food and gas are increasing rapidly. School teachers’ paychecks are shrinking every year . The social democratic ideals upon which Israel was established are evaporating. The rich are getting richer and the poor remain poor.

Israel’s low unemployment rate and high GDP are indeed impressive, but not necessarily indicative of a healthy community. China has the second largest economy in the world and has one of the highest GDPs. However, China is run by dictators and is filled with poor people. Many of Israel’s poor are the employed poor.

What amazes me is many Israelis’ inability to make the connection between the continuation of the occupation and the domestic problems Israel faces today; Israel is building constantly in the West Bank but it is failing to provide housing to its citizens within Israel proper. The current Israeli government’s focus on improving living standards in settlements while failing to do the same for the rest of the country is a moral failure.

Arrests in Saturday protest in Tel Aviv (Photo: Oren Ziv)

Arrests in Saturday protest in Tel Aviv (Photo: Oren Ziv)

According to a Peace Now report published on July 20, settlers in the West Bank receive 69 percent discount on the value of the land (so that buyers have to pay only 31 percent of the price of the land) and 50 percent funding of the development costs of the building project. In 2009 Israel investment of settlements public building (excluding East Jerusalem) was 431 million shekels, which was 15.36 percent of all public investment in construction for housing that year, despite the fact that they compose only 4 percent of the residents of Israel.

Israel’s focus on sustaining the occupation and growing settlements is paid for by reducing development and the quality of life in the rest of Israel. Perhaps, Hanoch Daum is right about many Israelis’ inability to see the writing on the wall even if it hits them in the face.

I watch the news and see nothing that will give away, even through a small hint, the minute and apparently not so important fact that Israel is currently experiencing one of the finest periods in its history.

Apparently some people are like ostriches, they do well by putting their heads into the sand. Their inability to understand the consequences from a domestic policy that ends the social structure and ethical values of Israel for the sake of a good GDP number is saddening. The Knesset’s ability to pass legislation that drives Israel further from democracy without a real public outcry is a sign of disconnect. And like China’s occupation of Tibet, some Israelis are comfortable with occupying the Palestinian territories without a hinge on their conscience.

Israelis cannot afford to continue voting out of fear, basing their choices on security issues, or they will have the illusion of a secure state without any social of ethical standards. Many Israelis might n0t make the connection yet, but the struggle in Israel today is not about improving housing and social conditions, but is between those who seek to have a democratic state with social and moral structure and those who see China’s dictatorship as a good model toward becoming a major economic power.

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    1. Tamar


      Reply to Comment
    2. Delphine

      I’m surprised nobody saw this connection yet? Hopefully if this is published in an Israeli paper they will make the connection. Those settlers are destroying peace for the Palestinians and Israelis.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Anthony

      The argument here is weak:

      The author points out one link between housing and the occupation – that most Israelis pay in taxes for the protection and subsidy of the settlements.

      However if the Occupation ended, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis were relocated within Israel proper, what would that do to house prices?!

      In my view the moral and economic arguments for ending the Occupation are overwhelming – but it won’t solve all of Israel’s problems and it may well worsen some of them.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Its good that the demonstrators have not made an ideological connection between the occupation and the rent demonstrations.

      They could take an expansionistic form, of demanding West Bank vacant territory to build in.

      Better that they stay focused.

      Reply to Comment
    5. weinstein henry

      Dear Anthony, I guess whatever the Israelis can do, even when they go to the toilets, there is always a connection to be made with the “Occupation” tag, according to the activists’ intellect.
      I wonder what’s wrong to ask for social justice in Israel when you are protesting against social injustice in Israel, knowing that if you enter the Hasbara Zone, you will be censored.

      Reply to Comment
    6. sh

      Well, I’m glad to say that some are starting to make that connection, but it’s not as yet the demonstrators. Akiva Eldar today.

      We now need journalists willing to explain how subsidies for families with more than 7 children can results in lots of apartments for haredim while at the same time, almost none for citizens of the Arab sector who have more than 7 children. Please tackle the tangled web of legislations that, just as an example, make new construction right in the middle of Lod for yeshivot that will bring in families from elsewhere who will attend and teach in them, perfectly compatible with demolition of the homes of Arab families living nearby for decades. Doing so will bring us naturally to the central problem, which is, in Eldar’s words:

      “The day after the victory they told us that they were waiting for a telephone call from the Arabs. They promised us that when our neighbors offered their hand in peace, we would give them back the land. Since then we have stood aside while they sell peace for land.”
      (So we don’t get sidetracked, the haredim are not to blame for this, successive governments are for subscribing to it.)

      Reply to Comment
    7. Doesn’t this provide a unique opportunity for cross-cultural connection?

      Friendships, non-Zionist political organization.

      Not pro-Zionist, not anti-Zionist, just people.

      Reply to Comment
    8. ARTH

      The 972 crowd should understand, and they ought to understand because they live in Israel, that for the majority of Israelis, the “Occupied Territories” are a far away abstraction, even it is is physically next to them and down the road. It is something they hear about in the news, and really, to which they feel no relationship. The implication is that the now-to-be debate on domestic policy will be conducted independently from the issue of “The Occupation” which will continue…

      Reply to Comment
    9. Shanzdah-e Shirin


      The 972 crowd should understand that, like any sane people in the world, it’s more natural for Israeli Jews to care about their housing problems first than to go on an idealistic mission for the sake of people who, for all they know, are their mortal enemies.

      Reply to Comment
    10. directrob

      Shanzdah-E Shirin,
      Actually no need to go on a mission just give them full voting rights and stop sending your teenagers and settlers to occupy them. It saves money too.

      Reply to Comment
    11. the best piece I read about the upper middle class- tent protest in Tel aviv!!!

      Reply to Comment
    12. @Shanzdah-e Shirin
      I understand that it is natural for Israelis to care about their immediate needs first. My argument is not about that. It is about their inability to see the occupation role in their problems. The prices are high in Tel Aviv because the Israelis government is spending more money to develop Ariel and Itamar and subsidize living conditions there without taking in consideration the rest of the country. To fix any problem you must first see the roots of it. The root of the problems in Israel is not separable from the occupation.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Shaun

      So if Israel were to evacuate a few hundred thousand settlers and move them to central Israel would that just exasperate the housing issue?
      On the other hand, you can claim that the “settlers” should be moved to the Negev or the galilee. If that was such a simple solution, then why don’t all these” tent protestors” pack up and move to the Negev, this would show the settlers how easy it is.
      How’s that for a connection?

      Reply to Comment