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Tent Cities in Israel: A Report from Tel Aviv

17 October 2011 No Comment

Nira with her husband and son

By Patricia Smith
Founder, Peace X Peace
Editor, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women

The explosion of emotions from the public shook the government… I believe nothing will be the same from now on. In this sense, the protest is and will be successful.”


An Interview with Nira Lamay Rachlevsky

Nira Lamay Rachlevsky lives in Tel Aviv with her husband and young son.  She is a lawyer in the Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, for three committees — Science and Technology, Rights of Children, and Immigration and Absorption.  She spoke with me about the protests happening outside of her apartment.

You can hear more from this amazing young woman, and her friendship with Reem Al Sharif, a school principal in the West Bank, in the video below.

Nira Lamay Rachlevsky – Catalyst Series from Little Film Studio on Vimeo.

Nira, we hear of protests across Israel, people demonstrating in Tel Aviv, tent camps. What’s happening?

Israeli society is going through a revolutionary era — 350,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv out of a population of not even 7 million people.  For the first time in our history people in such a large magnitude are on the streets for a purely social goal and not a political-national security one.

What’s mostly amazing is the social content and narrative the young people are coming out with, just when you thought the most important thing for them was which café serves better espresso or which party is the coolest.

Who are the people in the marches?

The protest has brought together people from very different socio-economic backgrounds. Young academics of European origin, the Ashkenazi, are alongside older uneducated middle-aged Mizrachi, non-Europeans, still struggling to reach some economic achievements.

The explosion of emotions from the public shook the government.  I believe the special task force they set up will bring feasible solutions, as their work will be in the public eye and monitored constantly. I believe nothing will be the same from now on. In this sense, the protest is and will be successful.

What are their demands?

Social justice.  The protestors demand lowering of the unreasonable cost of living, especially of food, children’s products, and housing, both rented and as real estate.

And they protest the control of a few corporations in the main manufacture junctions, which creates a situation where wealth and growth is not even remotely equally distributed — and, the vast budget allocated for defense and settlements doesn’t leave much for the public health sector, accessible housing, education, and other social needs.

The people are asking for a transformation in national priorities, such as raising competition so the market is indeed free, but still monitored by the state for basic services. And calling off privatizing in education and some municipal-local services like water, and defending the rights of contractual employees. This doesn’t necessarily mean changing the free market system, but making sure it does not work against the people.

A scene from the protest in Tel Aviv

How does this relate to you, Nira?

I’m afraid the protests are relevant for me, as they are for almost the entire middle and lower classes.  Even though my husband and I earn two above-the-average salaries, we can’t afford a suitable apartment in the Tel-Aviv area — and having a baby makes it even harder. Baby products here cost almost twice as the same brand in the US and Europe.

The protest is taking place right next to our apartment, so we definitely went to the marches and the tent camp with our baby Michael.

What is the tent camp? Who lives there?

The camps started on one of the fashionable boulevards of central Tel Aviv as a protest of young academics who could not afford the monstrous rents in Tel Aviv and got tired of paying almost all their salary to live in tiny, inadequate apartments. They were joined by more and more people — students, young families, and older people,  people who had given up any hope of buying their own houses. The fashionable Rothschild Boulevard could not be recognized. It was covered with tents, signs, artwork, and people — beautiful, hopeful people.

Soon tent camps were all over, in Jerusalem, Beer Sheba, Haifa, and even the periphery of Israel.  But now the demonstrations have taken the direction of a political struggle through the media and negotiating with the government.

The tent camps have been left to those who really do not have anywhere else to go to—homeless people who, for a few moments, had been noticed by an entire country.  Except now, the court has issued an order for their evacuation.

You’re non-European. You’re Mizrachi.  How do you fit into Israel’s social fabric?

In numbers, being non-European is long ago not being a minority.  And I’m no longer a minority in other ways, since buying an apartment gets further and further away for so many people.

My son was born into a world divided between an Ashkenazi father whose parents and grandparents were part of Israel’s “Mayflower” and a Mizrachi mother whose parents immigrated from Iran and never spoke proper Hebrew.

When I visit my parent’s house, I am reminded that I am now a minority in view of the nice life I live and the people who surround me.  The gap between my worlds is so deep I no longer know which is my genuine home.

You are creating a genuine home with your family.

Yes, my desire to love and care for our baby is so much more than for anything or anyone else, including myself.  I don’t feel this slows me, or my work, down.  Instead it gives me more perspective and brings deeper meaning to making the world a better place.

Hear more from Nira, and watch all the Catalyst videos, on the Catalyst website.




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