Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets Saturday night, in demand of affordable housing and social justice.
Protest marches were held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Ashdod, Beersheba, Nazareth, Kiryat Shmona, Modiin, Hod HaSharon, Netanya, Kfar Saba and Ashkelon. All marches culminated in rallies in each city, held under the banner of "Israel demands an affordable future."
Activists in the "tent city" on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, which is the heart of the housing protest, were visibly excited: "There's a feeling that what will happen tonight has never been seen before, especially when it comes to non-political issues," Jonathan Levy, a protest organizer, told Ynet.
Tel Aviv hosted the main protest rally, where organizers said they will list their demands of the government. "We are going to present our main demands and our dream – what this country should look like," activist Stav Shafir told Ynet. "I feel that this is much bigger than just me. It feels like we're re-establishing the state."
Many public figures, including authors, members of the academia, artists and performers joined the protesters at the Tel Aviv Museum plaza, where the rally was held.
"This is not a political battle – the cost of living doesn’t differentiate between political views, it affects us all," said an activist who spoke at the rally. "We would have come out here regardless of who is heading the government," she stressed.
Thousands of people converged on Rothschild Boulevard ahead of the protest march. As the march began, protesters were chanting "The people demand social change" and "an entire generation demands a future," and waving signs reading "Game over," "housing, education, health, food – not for the rich only," "The people demand social justice" and more.
The Tel Aviv march (Photo: Yaron Brener)
In Jerusalem, nearly 10,000 are marching towards the prime minister's residence, where they will stage their protest rally. Like the Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem rally will feature various speakers and organizers said they want to illustrate that "this is one socioeconomic battle over the nature of the State of Israel."
Author David Grossman told journalists in Jerusalem that "the common denominator is that a large group of people who are not doing well have come out to the streets because they know that they do be better."
"The people are loyal to the State, but the State is not loyal to them," he said, and noted that "as someone who takes part in many demonstrations, to see people with different views coming together is heartwarming. This is a non-sectorial protest, even though some try to present it is as such."
Pesach Hausfater, of the Dror Israel Movement told Ynet that, "The (government) has to understand we will not stop until the rules of the game have thoroughly changed, at least in matters of taxation, Israel's compatibility with OECD standards in education, health and social systems, affordable housing and Zionism. They also have to stop squandering the people's money," he said.
Protesters in Haifa (Photo: AFP)
About 10,000 people gathered in Haifa and are marching towards the city's Horev Center. The Haifa police have blocked off several roads to facilitate the march, said to stretch nearly half a kilometer.
Guy Goldstein, a Haifa educator, said: "We demand to have our country back. We want to call it what it is – a welfare state. We demand an end to privatization."
Arnon Oshri, one of the heads of the dairy farmers' protest, added: "We're here to tell the prime minister – you and your government are heading down the wrong path and it will lead to the destruction of nine out of the ten social echelons. We won't take it lying down."
In Ashdod, more than 1,500 people rallied and began marching towards city hall. About 3,000 people gathered in Beersheba and 150 rallied in Ashkelon.
In Kiryat Shmona, 1,000 people gathered for a protest rally under the banner of "equal conditions for the periphery."
In Tel Aviv, the Yarkon Subdistrict Police was tasked with securing the march and subsequent rally. Hundreds of policemen have been deployed along the march's route, including sector commander Brigadier General Yoram Ohayon.
Protesters in the Arab sector (Photo: Mohamed Shinawi)
The Arab sector also took part in the wave of protest sweeping through Israel Saturday. Dozens of Israeli Arabs rallied in Baka al-Garbiyeh, near Haifa, and demanded Netanyahu's resignation.
Protesters hoisted signs reading "We also deserve affordable housing," "Bibi, wake up," and "The Arab sector is worth more."
MK Raleb Majadele, who participated in the rally, said that "The government is deaf to both Jews and Arabs… and the one leading it doesn’t listen to the public's plight. This government should come to an end and a new government should be formed, one that would own up to it social responsibilities. If this satiation goes on, things may escalate to violent protest, and no one wants that," he warned.
In Nazareth, dozens rallied in support of the affordable housing cause, and echoed the demand for Netanyahu's resignation.
"The Arab sector also feels the housing crisis," a local activist told Ynet. "It is our duty to support the cause and tell the government, and all the other relevant bodies, that there are no differences between Jews and Arabs in Israel and we all demand the same basic rights and equality. We can't allow the situation to deteriorate any further."
In Jaffa, dozens of Arab and Jewish protesters rallied for the cause as well, carrying signs in Hebrew and Arabic reading "Arabs and Jews want affordable housing," and "Jaffa doesn’t want bids for the rich only."
Police sources estimated that 150,000 people were taking part in the protest nationwide.
Roi Kais, Ahiya Raved, Omri Efraim, Yoav Malka, Naama Cohen-Friedman and Hassan Shaalan contributed to this report