Tens of thousands of Israelis participated in mass protest rallies across Israel Saturday night demanding social change and justice.
Police sources estimated that nearly 150,000 people participated in the protest nationwide.
Tel Aviv hosted the main protest rally, where leaders of the social protest – which sprouted from a "tent city"
erected on Rothschild Boulevard in protest of the lack of affordable housing some two weeks ago – detailed their demands from the government.
"Two weeks have passed since we have pitched the first tent on the boulevard, and it seems that there are still some people around the government table who just don't understand: The real estate situation and the high cost of living are just symptoms of a deep and dangerous fracture that has spread within our society," activist Daphni Leef, said over the stage.
"The piggery and egoism have turned into the most prominent features of Israeli existence, but over the past two weeks we discovered that there is another Israeli existence.
"We have come here today to tell our elected officials in the simplest of terms that the State has a responsibility to its citizens, a responsibility that our elected officials continue to shrug off with a variety of excuses, including supply and demand, a free market and false prosperity."
The current revolution, she continued, "Is a revolution of awareness: A revolution that causes all citizens understand that we all deserve more; understand that they are allowed to demand more from the government; understand that it is not a luxury to stand for all the rights that we deserve."
Protesters in Tel Aviv (Photo: Yaron Brener)
"We do not want to replace the government, we want much more than that – to change the rules of the game and say loud and clear: Social services are rights, not commodities."
Speaking of the protest movement's primary cause, affordable housing, Leef said that "A home is not just real estate. The State must intervene immediately in the housing market in order to protect us, the citizens. We demand fair housing for everyone. Public housing is not a swear-word."
Leef went on to say that the State must regulate rent prices and conditions.
Activists also demands changes in the education system: "A School is not a business. Israeli governments, past and present, have altogether dismissed their responsibility for future generations," activist Jonathan Levy told the crowds.
"We demand an equal, public education system in the periphery and the center of the country… We demand free public education for children of all ages, and aid for university students who need it. Instead of creating equal opportunities, the education system perpetuates the gap between the different classes – and there are no differences between us – look at what's happing in Israel tonight!"
Activist Stave Shafir spoke of the demand for better health services: "Who would have thought that in 2011 we would have to fight for basic rights like proper medical services? How would you call a country where part of the population has premium health services, while the others are abandoned? What would you think about a country where the place where a person lives determines his life expectancy?"
(Photo: Ben Kelmer)
"We sympathize with the doctors' struggle, and demand additional hospital beds, manpower and equipment. The State invests so much in security, but ignores the number of people who die from the staff shortage, drug shortage or senseless burnout… The revolutions has begun, it's here!" she concluded.
Activist Regev Contes addressed the protesters demand for better social services: "The State systematically avoids providing basic social services. It must care for the citizens' wellbeing, especially those whose jobs are to protect us. It's inconceivable that social workers need social workers themselves.
"Social services are not an obstacle standing in the way of a free market; they are what helps it prosper."
Meanwhile, protesters in Jerusalem said they are gearing for a prolonged battle for their cause. Ofer Berkowitz, one of the leaders of the Jerusalem protest, said: "We'll see the entire country on the streets with us.
"We won't stop until all of our demands for affordable housing are met and until the prime minister presents a comprehensive solution for problems in the health, education and social welfare systems. Now that the people have the power, the world order is about to change," he said.
Itai Gutler, head of the Hebrew University Student Union, told Ynet that "In the next few days we will paralyze the country. We will have half a million people out there."
Rachel Azariya, a Jerusalem councilwoman added: "We will keep fighting for the future nature of the State of Israel. We will demand the State be held responsible for social issues."
"We won't be discouraged," Kobi Frige, a Jerusalem protest activist, said. "If Netanyahu doesn’t listen he'll go home. Any political leader that fails to speak the social language will see his downfall."