Mass protests in Israel over high prices

In the largest show of support since the movement began two weeks ago, massive demonstrations take place across country.

    Israelis hold up banners as they march against housing costs in the centre of the coastal city of Tel Aviv [AFP]

    More than 100,000 Israelis have taken to the streets nationwide to protest rising housing prices in the largest turnout since the grass-roots demonstrations began two weeks ago.

    The protests over housing costs have tapped into wider discontent among Israelis over the high cost of living and the growing gaps between rich and poor.

    Other protests include doctors striking over working conditions and pay, parents demonstrating against expensive child rearing costs and similar outpourings over increasing gas prices.

    Tens of thousands thronged the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other major cities  on Saturday and chanted, "The people demand social justice."

    Protesters waved Israeli flags and placards that read: "work 3 jobs but don't make ends meet", "killing ourselves to live" and "social gaps are killing us".

    Micky Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, said over 100,000 people protested in 10 cities across the country on Saturday night - from Beersheba in the south to Kiryat Shmoneh at the northern tip of the country.

    Police said some 50,000 marched in coastal Tel Aviv, and 10,000 in northern Haifa, and major streets were closed for the protesters to march.

    Tent cities

    The demonstrations began two weeks ago in Tel Aviv, where young activists set up a small tent encampment in a central neighbourhood to draw attention to the country's housing crunch.

    The protests, inspired in part by unrest in neighbouring Arab countries, have continued to gain steam and show no signs of slowing.

    "This is a great success; people are marching in the streets and living in the streets for the past two weeks," Stav Shafir, one of the protest leaders, told Channel 2 TV.

    "Finally people are choosing to determine how they want to live. We want affordable housing, health, education and welfare."

    The weeks of popular demonstrations are becoming a headache for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with polls showing a sharp drop in his approval ratings and strong support for the protesters.

    Netanyahu announced a package of reforms meant to lower housing prices last week but it did little to defuse the anger.

    In Jerusalem, thousands marched through the city center to the prime minister's house.

    Protesters held up signs reading, "Netanyahu go home".

    Dramatic price rise

    The protests have brought together people from diverse background and a wide range of political views and recent demonstrations have included marches against the prices of petrol, boycotts of expensive cottage cheese that forced manufacturers to lower prices, and lengthy strikes by social workers and doctors over pay and working conditions.

    The average Israeli salary stands at about $2,500 per month, with key professions like teachers, civil servants and social workers typically earning less than $2,000 a month.

    Home prices jumped some 35 per cent between December 2007 and August 2010 and rental rates have also risen steadily.

    Rent on a modest three-bedroom apartment in central Jerusalem can cost more than $1,000 per month and costs even more in Tel Aviv.

    A standard 100 square metres apartment can easily top $600,000 in metropolitan centres like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and $200,000 to $300,000 in second-tier areas.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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