Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Tent City

Tel Aviv has erupted in protest against rising house prices and the serious inadequacies and anti-democratic tendencies of the current Likud government. This is a protest that has taken a form unlike that we would see in England (apart from, in a lesser form, at our universities). One woman began camping on one of the main streets in Tel Aviv and thousands of others followed suit, until what is being termed the largest social movement in the past 10 or so years in Tel Aviv emerged. It began as tens, then hundreds and two weeks later thousands of people are camping, and essentially occupying, a boulevard in the centre of Tel Aviv. This has become known as 'tent city'. This is much more than the (arguably) somewhat juvenile student occupations that have occurred in universities in the United Kingdom. Students and adults, teenagers and the middle aged are all involved. Above all the 'Rabin generation' (20-40) have come together in protest, aside from any particular institution, political party or social organization.
'Tent city' has received a large amount of skepticism from both left and right. Is it an occupation? If so, where are the demands? Is it a festival, if so, what does that have to do with politics? What began as a protest explicitly against rising house prices has certainly transformed into something rather organic and amorphous. I do not think that this is grounds to criticize it. It does not seem to be reducing the amount that the Israeli government is fearful of this movement. Yes, this is about house prices. However it is also about more, it is about a general antipathy towards the ruling government, a government that is profoundly anti-democratic. Politics in Israel has traditionally been along the lines of the Arab-Israeli conflict. You were either for or against the occupation. Now however, people are calling for a stronger welfare state, they are protesting domestic issues and they are making headway. Bibi Netanyahu knows he has to listen. 

With any luck, this will only be the start of a mass movement in Israel that will cause an upheaval in the political system. Domestic and external issues are closely intertwined, and nowhere can that be felt more strongly than when standing on Sderot Rothschild, faced with an avalanche of protest.  Tomorrow demonstrators will march through the streets of Jerusalem demanding equality for gays and lesbians and tolerance towards minorities (Jerusalem Pride). It is a week of serious political protest in Israel. Next week I will be in the West Bank. It will be interesting to see what Palestinians make of these incredibly significant events over the border.

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