Israelis camp out in house price protest


July is a usually month in which Tel Avivians seek refuge from the sweltering heat in air-conditioned havens.
This time around, however, hundreds of students and young people have decided to sleep under the sky, erecting a couple of hundred tents along the well-to-do Rothschild Boulevard in protest over the rising housing and rent prices.

The growing grassroots movement has already set up tent cities in a dozen other towns throughout the country, from Kiryat Shmona on the northern border to Beer Sheva in the Negev.

"Two thousand shekels (£360) for a room in a cramped flat is the bare minimum in most parts of northern and central Tel Aviv," says Adi Amiram, a 24-year-old criminology student, "and it's no use telling me to live elsewhere if I want to work and attend university."

Efrat Levin, who set up a tent on Sunday, said: "This is the real middle class and most of us cannot afford a flat in the centre where most of the jobs are."

House prices in Israel rose 3.5 per cent in the first six months of 2011 but rent in most cities has gone up by over 10 per cent in the past year. Government plans to build tens of thousands of affordable homes have yet to have any effect on the housing market.

The tent protest is ostensibly non-political but it is putting the government's housing policy under the spotlight and has given the beleaguered Israeli left-wing a rare opportunity.

Politicians from all sides flocked to the Tel Aviv campsite, but while some of the protesters verbally attacked Likud MK Miri Regev until she left, representatives of the opposition seemed to be more welcome. Early on, the new National Left, a movement that is trying to re-energise the Zionist left-wing, joined in the protest, supplying dozens of tents. The New Israel Foundation also announced on Tuesday that it would help sponsor the protests.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to deflect the criticism, saying that the former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had stopped public building projects in the centre of the country.

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