Huge show of force: More than 300,000 Israelis hit the streets nationwide in one of the largest protests in the State of Israel's history, as public anger over the skyrocketing cost of living reached unprecedented heights.
At least 250,000 people gathered in downtown Tel Aviv for a huge rally against the government, paralyzing traffic in large parts of the city. Thousands of others hoping to reach Tel Aviv by train were unable to make it after Israel Railway halted one train and cut back its service as a result of overcrowded conditions.
Legendary social activist Charlie Biton, who was among the leaders of a protest movement against the government in the 1970s, told the demonstrators in Tel Aviv: "40 years have passed since the day I stepped out, instilled with faith, against the injustice surrounding me. Since then, year after year, I've been waiting for a new generation to stand up against injustice – and here it is."
"My hope withered from year to year, as the injustice grew… But now, after 40 years, my vision has been realized," Biton said..
Meanwhile, at least 30,000 people gathered in Jerusalem for a major rally at the capital's Paris Square. Protests were also held as far north as Kiryat Shomna, where thousands blocked a junction in town, and in Eilat, Israel's southernmost city, where at least 2,000 protestors were on hand.
Sea of people in Tel Aviv (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
Thousands of other protestors took part in rallies elsewhere, inncluding in Tzemach, Petach Tikva, Raanana, Ashkelon, HaOgen Junction, Dimona, Hadera and Rosh Pina. Saturday night's protest was launched at the HaShomrim Junction in northern Israel, where some 1,000 people gathered to show their solidarity with the national struggle.
Speaking at the rally, National Student Union Leader Itzik Shmuli said that "never before in the State of Israel did so many people come together to change the future."
"There have always been demonstrations and rallies to protest the past, yet this is the first time hundreds of thousands of people are gathering time and again to tell our leaders: We demand change," he said.
Protestors march in Ashkelon (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)
"We have the power to change. We have the power to demand a better future," Shmuli said. "They (politicians) are scared. Mr. Prime Minister, we are no longer ashamed to tell you openly: What we have today is truly not enough."
Another speaker at the rally, Rabbi Benny Lau, told the masses: "We are on the eve of a social tikkun. Our right for this land is conditioned upon social justice."
"We cannot afford to see such terrible gaps; that's not a Jewish state," he said. "We cannot afford to see people who are working and making a living yet unable to buy a home; that's not a Jewish state."
Jerusalem residents protest (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister's Office Shimon Sheve told Ynet that "this government is finished."
Sheves, who attended the Tel Aviv rally, said: "The only meaning of such protest is that they (government) failed to do the job. We're a democratic state. This protest will give rise to a new party."
By early evening, tens of thousands of people gathered on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, ahead of a mass march
headed to the main rally outsidse the government compound on Kaplan Street. A huge sign reading "working class" in English was posted on the corner of Kaplan and Dubnov Streets.
One of largest protest's in Israel's history (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
One of the social struggle's organizers, Gil Sasson, told Ynet: "We have here an unprecedented collective awakening; we are witnessing a people sobering up….what started as a battle for affordable housing has turned into a protest movement that is snowballing and is now aiming for a system-wide change."
Amid the numerous signs and posters held up by protestors was an effigy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu riding a pig, with the caption: "Bibi, you pig, give back the country to us."
Israelis take over streets (Photo: Ben Kelmer)
Mali, a mother of five, told Ynet: "Today, all the people here think that the government fails to show concern for you and I, but rather, but only cares for those who are very wealthy – that's wrong and it needs to be changed."
The protests in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other communities nationwide drew Israelis of all walks of life, including students, public sector workers and social activists. Some of Israel's top performers, including Shlomo Artzi, Yehudit Ravitz and Rita, took the stage in Tel Aviv to support the protestors.
Yoav Zitun, Boaz Fyler, Attila Somfalvi, Ahiya Raved, Omri Efraim, Ilana Curiel, Ahuva Mamous, Hasan Shaalan and Aviad Glickman contributed to the story