By Lia Tarachansky, The Real News Network – 5 Aug 2011
On July 14th, eight Israeli students set up tents on Rothschild Boulevard in the heart of Tel Aviv. Within days they were joined by hundreds of tents, and tent cities sprung up throughout the country. This movement, which became known as “July 14th” saw dozens of direct actions such as blockading the entrance to the Israeli parliament and massive protests with tens of thousands on the streets of Tel Aviv and nine other cities. The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky interviews Shir Hever, an economist, Dror K. Levi, a professor cultural studies at Haifa University, and various voices from the movement.
LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: On July 14, eight students set up tents on Rothschild Boulevard in the heart of Tel Aviv in protest to high housing prices. Within days, they were joined by hundreds of tents, and tent cities sprung out in dozens of cities throughout the country.
CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Tahrir Square is here. The people demand social justice! The answer to privatization? Revolution!
TARACHANSKY: Their movement, which became known as July 14th, saw solidarity actions throughout Israel. Several times, activists blockaded the entrance to the parliament, and for two Saturdays in a row, tens of thousands came out in mass demonstrations in Tel Aviv and in other cities.
CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): There’s nowhere to run. Now citizens have power!
TARACHANSKY: Shir Hever is an economist and the author of The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation.
SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST AND AUTHOR: Israel had a system of public housing from the very early days of the state, which was intended to help the mass immigration coming into Israel to find affordable housing. They were far from the areas where the good education was to be had, where good employment was to be had. It was in the periphery. And, initially, Ashkenazi people who came to the towns and were offered these public housing projects did everything in their power to try to leave. And through some connections and friends, they were able to get a mortgage and buy a house in the center, buy an apartment in the center, even if it was a very small apartment. This apartment would become theirs, and over the decades it would be a source for their wealth. Mizrahi people had almost no chance of getting a mortgage, and if they can’t get a mortgage, they have no choice but to stay in the public housing, which means long-term unemployment and lack of public services. This–I want to go back to what you said. This is not just about housing. It’s also about all the services and the public services that come in a community where you can judge whether housing is affordable or not.
TARACHANSKY: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the growing movement by forcing the director of the treasury to quit. He also helped pass a highly unpopular law that privatizes state-owned lands and allows contractors to bypass bureaucratic steps. In response, the July 14th movement decided to say no to any negotiations with the government. But while the protests started over housing, they quickly spread to other spheres.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The public health system in Israel today isn’t working well. It’s not right for the needs. If you live in the periphery, the further you live from a hospital, there’s a bigger chance you’ll die. And because the government isn’t able to fix the public health system, it privatizes. This privatization means that who has money can pay for private health care, which is good, and who doesn’t have money can use the public system, and you’ll have to wait five months or four months for a colonoscopy or other simple tests like X-rays, very trivial things that should be accessible to the whole population and not just for the rich.
VERONIQUE, CONGOLESE REFUGEE: I arrive for the corruption, for the injustices from Africa. I come here. They say this is a state of right, where the dignity can be given. But I’m suffering two times more than what I suffer in Africa. UN said we are under UN protection. No even shelter. How are you protecting us? The first need we don’t have. Four years in Isreal. No. The protection just the paper they give to us. And [incompr.] organization, even for refugees [incompr.] working, they help only people, those who are pregnant. So you need to pregnancy yourself for that they will give you shelter. This is not a good way. And you will see [incompr.] 15, 15 years, 17 years, they get pregnant [incompr.] so that they can–will get the shelter. Is this the way to get the shelter?
TARACHANSKY: Dror Levi is a professor at Haifa University of cultural studies and critical theory. He’s the author of From Time to Space and Vice Versa.
DROR K. LEVI, PROF. CULTURAL STUDIES, HAIFA UNIVERSITY (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The question was raised whether the struggle should be focused, to raise specific demands, or to maintain a sort of vague discourse that includes all kinds of issues and forms of rage–what we’ve basically had until now. I think that from a strategic and tactical point of view, these discussions must happen in parallel. The right thing is to talk using big-picture language, talk about big things like social justice, to talk about a welfare state and all these kinds of questions, and in the meantime, localize the struggle to focus on minor goals.
TARACHANSKY: While the original eight self-identified as apolitical, the struggle they helped start quickly became a platform for many political issues.
SHIRT (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Tel Aviv for Jews
TARACHANSKY: On Tuesday, extremist settlers from Hebron, under the leadership of Baruch Marzel, joined the tent city on Rothschild Boulevard. The same day, 42 parliamentarians sent a letter to the prime minister saying the solution to the housing crisis is more settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): You’re a Jew and I’m a Jew, and I’ve come here to support all the Jews.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): But what did you really come here for?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): But what about those who aren’t Jews?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The non-Jews? Why do you ask such questions?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): No, but she’s right. When you say Israel, do you mean the Arabs as well? Twenty percent are Arabs. What, they’re not citizens?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Beyond the Green Line there are many more.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): True, but right now we’re talking about Israel.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Since the establishment of the state, what did they want to do to you?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): There are different people.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): What? What have they tried to do to you? Since the state was created, what did they do?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): There was a war.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Right. War, no questions. The entire UN agreed to establish the state of Israel.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): But the whole UN also–.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): So you don’t want a state?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Hold on. But the whole UN also–listen to me. The UN also supports the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. So you do that too because the UN said so?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): But that’s against. I don’t really care. Really, I don’t care about the UN.
TARACHANSKY: The southern parts of the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality are home to some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. Three tent cities were erected here in Levinsky Park, Hatikva neighborhood, and in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Jaffa. Levinsky was the first and only tent city to be forcefully removed in the middle of the night by the municipality. On Wednesday the three areas held a joint meeting to discuss their united struggle.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I was evicted from my home because of the government’s shady business. They sold my home to some lawyer from inside the government public housing company. He did some shady business, and we became homeless.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): [Parliament speaker] Reuven Rivlin was saying that his son earns NIS 17,000 and he can’t make ends meet. People are making NIS 3,000 or 4,000. What are we talking about? These things, they’re not talking about these things. All we hear is “middle class, middle class”. These people’s heads are in the sea, under the water. The [Israeli] Black Panthers used violence, and all of a sudden community centers were built, and the “Neighborhoods” project, which is worth garbage (but that’s a different story). And then laws were passed. But they simply did not give up.
TARACHANSKY: While Netanyahu’s response has mostly been mild, many are now predicting the government will attempt to squash the movement by starting another military operation. Early on Thursday, Israeli warplanes escalated their routine attacks on Gaza by bombing many targets throughout the Strip. For The Real News, I’m Lia Tarachansky in Tel Aviv.
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