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.