Over 450,000 Israelis hit the streets this weekend to protest the rising cost of living in the Mediterranean country. Demonstrations were held in cities across Israel, the biggest of the protests drawing 300,000 people in Tel Aviv. 50,000 protesters came out in Jerusalem. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the demonstrations were the biggest in the country’s history.
Israelis have been organizing the massive protests for six weeks, aimed at addressing a range of economic issues such as soaring housing prices and the rising costs of gas and food. In Haifa, people also protested discrimination against Arabs. Opinion polls suggest the demonstrations are supported by large segments of Israeli society. PHOTOS HERE
The main protest took place in Tel Aviv’s Kikar Hamedina, where some 300,000 people gathered after marching from Habima Square about two kilometers away. Protest leader Yonatan Levy said the atmosphere was like “a second Independence Day.”
Protest leaders Daphni Leef and National Student Union Chairman Itzik Shmuli both addressed the Tel Aviv crowd. “Mr. Prime Minister, the new Israelis have a dream and it is simple: to weave the story of our lives into Israel. We expect you to let us live in this country. The new Israelis will not give up. They demand change and will not stop until real solutions come,” Shmuli said.
Orna Banai told the crowd in the capital: “I am not amused that there are hungry children here; that we have a soldier rotting in captivity for five years; that Israel is one of the poorest examples there are of human rights.” The chairman of the Hebrew University Student Union, Itai Gotler, said: “We changed this summer. The voice of the mother, the teacher, the student, have been heard…The fire of protest was lit in Tel Aviv, but the tent city in Jerusalem shows that the protest belongs to all of us.”
In Haifa, the protest drew 40,000 people, many of whom waved red flags. The Haifa protest focused on the issue of discrimination against Arabs. Shahin Nasser, representative of the Wadi Nisnas protest tent in Haifa said: “Today we are changing the rules of the game. No more coexistence based on hummus and fava beans. What is happening here is true coexistence, when Arabs and Jews march together shoulder to shoulder calling for social justice and peace. We’ve had it. Bibi, go home. Steinitz, go and don’t come back, Atias, good-bye and good riddance,” he said, referring to the prime minister, the finance minister and the housing minister, respectively.