Israel’s one-sided, ‘liberal’ housing protest is not a movement worth joining or even championing

Gali Tibbon / AFP

Over 150,000 Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv yesterday, joining the thousands more protesting the policies behind soaring housing prices in Israel. Unfortunately, and with all due respect, the movement in its current state is flawed and deserves to be recognized as such until it demands an end to all unfair civil policies in Israel, including the ones targeting Arabs.

The demonstrations began on 14 July 2011 when dozens of Israeli citizens pitched tents in central Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest the high costs of housing and basic living expenses. In the two weeks following the establishment of these tent cities, the protests grew much larger in both participation and scope due in part to increased media attention as well as growing frustration with the government’s refusal to meet the protesters’ demands.

No longer are protesters focusing their efforts on just the expensive costs of owning a home. The message now brings attention to poor working conditions, high costs of education, unaffordable food expenses, and rising gas prices. According to one unnamed protester interviewed for a Russian Times newscast, “it’s becoming impossible to live here [in Israel].”

This is true – but only if it refers to everybody, Israelis and non-Israelis alike.

Rallying for social justice is a noble concept, an ideal one at that. But if the grassroots movement ignores specific aspects of social progress or limits justice to a certain group of people, especially when the issue lies so central to the political messes Israel finds itself in, it is not a movement worth joining or even championing.

There is no dispute that the Israeli government’s policies concerning housing and living expenses negatively impacts Israel’s middle and lower economic classes. There is no dispute that Israel’s housing crisis affects even well-paid employees who find it difficult to afford a basic three-bedroom apartment. And there is no dispute that Israelis should feel compelled to protest the policies reinforcing these conditions.

But there is also no dispute that Palestinians face a much worse housing crisis at the hands of the Israeli government: evictions, demolition, forced displacement, and targeted discrimination in the housing industry. This, however, seems to go largely unnoticed by the liberals protesting in the Israel’s streets.

In December 2010, over three dozen Israeli rabbis supported a ruling “barring Jews from selling or renting homes to non-Jews”. Although the government of Israel denounced the ruling, it later put into effect a law that “would authorize rural, Jewish-majority communities to reject Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and other ‘unsuitable’ applicants for residency”, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

And then there’s Al-Araqib, a Bedouin village in the Negev Desert that has been demolished twenty-eight separate times since 27 July 2010, just one year ago. Although small in size and population, Al-Araqib is but one of the many villages and non-Jewish encampments facing Israeli bulldozers on a regular basis.

In a statement released by the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon Ban criticized Israel for its “continuation of demolitions, evictions and the installment of Israeli settlers in Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem”. The statement was issued in direct response to the eviction of a Palestinian family from its home after Jewish settlers claimed ownership of the property. Although the statement was released in 2009, it has yet to be met with any real change. In December of that year, for example, Israeli municipality authorities demolished 15 Palestinian structures in Jerusalem including four apartment buildings. Three affected families were registered refugees forced from their homes once again.

Palestinians with Israeli citizenship have it just as bad. According to a survey conducted by the Galilee Society’s Rizak Databank in 2010, the housing problem is statistically more severe in Arab-dominated towns and cities than in the rest of the country. The survey concluded that 46.8% of Israel’s Palestinian citizens will be unable to acquire a home within the next decade – not necessarily because of high prices but because of limited access to real estate agencies and landlords willing to sell or rent to them and because of the constant threat of arbitrary eviction. It is clear that the housing problem is more extensive and deeply-rooted than the way it is perceived as a strictly Israeli issue.

The sight of thousands of individuals standing together and chanting in unison is awe-inspiring and the good-willed brother- and sisterhood experienced within the throngs of protesters is undoubtedly motivational. But the liberals of Israel are either forgetting or ignoring the abominable housing policies that drive Palestinians from their neighborhoods.

The social protests have been dubbed Israel’s largest since the 1970s and are expected to result in reformed policies or even reshuffled governmental authority. But until the reforms address all of the issues at the core of Israel’s oppressive and discriminatory housing situation, until the policy changes put Palestinians at an equal footing with Israelis, until eviction notices are no longer dealt out on a whim, then the reforms are baseless and the protests are useless.

Updated with minor sentence edits and additions. To read about what I hope to see in the housing protests, click here.

Sami Kishawi


There are 10 comments

    1. Sami Kishawi

      Thanks for the comment Michael!
      The way I see it (and I hope this can change), until the #j14 demonstrations demand reform to the housing policies that target Arabs too, the housing protests will be incomplete and unimpressive. There is no reason why this particular issue hasn’t been tackled at the onset of these protests, especially since it runs so central to the policies these protesters are frustrated with. I equate it with protesters demanding an end to capital punishment — but only for Europeans, for example. I hope to see these protests transform into something that will demand an end to every poor housing policy, including the ones meant to restrain Arab growth. But ultimately, the protests cannot ignore the occupation either, and until then, they can never be put in the same category as the Arab Spring movements.

      In essence, it’s about the bigger picture. Demanding an end to just one aspect of an entire problem isn’t “liberal” or even justifiable at all. It’s been two weeks now and still no mention of the government’s discrimination.

      1. mux2000

        You keep saying Arab discrimination is not being paid attention to, and that is not correct. It may have been true in the first few days of the protest, but many ’48 Arabs have joined and end to discrimination has been in the speeches, signs and slogans of the protesters in the largest demonstrations. This is being addressed.

  1. mux2000

    Hi, I am one of the tent-protesters or #J14 activists you speak of. Just wanted to let you know we are protesting shoulder to shoulder with the Arab #J14 protesters, and most ’48 Arabs support and have joined the movement. You mentioned Al Araqib, and they marched with us on Saturday, they have a representative tent in Be’er Sheva and I even saw signs supporting them on Rothshield Ave., Tel Aviv’s biggest and oldest tent camp. The head of the board of Arab municipalities has announced he joined the protest. We strive for a more liveable, more peaceful and more affordable home & life for all.

    As for the conflict and the occupation, we’ll get to that too. There’s a tremendous chance here to make a break from the old security-oriented policy to something new. First it’s time to make the government obey us, then we’ll set the priorities for just and long-lasting peace. Hopefully 🙂

    If anyone wishes to know more, I’m @mux2000 on twitter. Feel free to ask anything.


    1. Sami Kishawi

      Awesome, and I can’t wait to hear about more of these developments because the racism, the conflict, and the occupation cannot be ignored any longer, especially during these #j14 protests

      1. mux2000

        I understand the urgency, and I feel it too. The problem is how to take down the entire system. Doing it by talking about the occupation is what we (Israeli left) tried for 63 years. You’ve seen how well that worked out. Maybe, just maybe, by making the common Israeli see that it’s not just the Palestinians that are getting robbed, they could see how being one of the two least equal countries in the world is a problem.

        I understand that from outside this could seem a cynical struggle, where the somewhat-privileged demand even more privileges on the backs of the non-privileged-at-all, but I, and I believe I represent what’s called “the hard kernel” of the #J14 protests on this subject, see it as a joint struggle by all who have been screwed by the Israeli government to stand up and demand their rights back. Us – our social rights, and they – their basic human rights. I wish we could do so together – I dream of seeing an Arab-Spring-like uprising in the territories – but I would completely understand if they do not. They may pay a much higher price.

        So all that we can do, and it is a lot of hard work, is help people make the connection between their rights being trodden on and how it is affected by what’s happening in the other sectors of society, such as the settlers and the occupied. It’s not easy changing minds, and changing the minds of millions takes time. That’s why it all sounds so incoherent. Everybody’s talking all the time. Ironing stuff out. At coffee houses, in the tents, at hospitals, at intersections. Everybody’s talking and changing their minds about stuff.

        Let’s hope we change enough minds to make it happen.

  2. Yoseph Leib

    One of the great opportunities here could be for Arab Israelis and even rightless Palestinians to show solidarity with THIS movement, in the hopes of helping Israeli Jews realize how much the state is taking advantage of us all. Because that kind of cross-concern and identification might some of the only hope that the region has for a trans-ethnic, trans-religious solidarity that won’t just be about one side defeating the other. It’s the fear of the degree that we are not identified with in our struggles that keeps us from sympathizing with others, not far away at all, fighting the same monster.

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