Israel has seen in the past week a massive mobilisation with tent cities all over the country, demonstrations backed by thousands, and sit-in protests blocking busy road junctions. Despite concessions from a government that’s keen to buy them off, the protests are growing and have called for a General Strike on 1st August.
Sadly, we can’t report that this was in pursuit of an end to the partition of the country and a demand for the establishment of a single state for all. But these protests, started in Tel Aviv by young, mainly middle class people who face soaring rents and big hurdles in their search for accommodation, are not as unrelated as they might seem to the Zionist-ethnic underpinning of everything Israeli.
In fact very little in this society with its complex and differential web of rules, laws, regulations and practices, least of all the provision of housing, is unaffected by the country’s peculiar racist ideology and its obsession with demographics. These are just a few of the ways it affects the supply of housing:
♦ Generous subsidies for anyone willing to live in and hold down stolen Palestinian land on the West Bank. This free land plus free infrastructure and services (some installed by the IDF) and cheap Palestinian labour create much more profitable building conditions in the West Bank than on the coast, where most non-ideological Israelis prefer to be. The Greater Israel project and its government must also favour creating prohibitive rents and prices in Tel Aviv which drive people to live in the new settlements.
♦ Subsidies and help for new Jewish immigrants who “make aliyah”. Ironically this discrimination may be one of the factors that drive some native Israelis abroad where pay is higher and rents are lower.
♦Planning policies and zoning that favour exclusive gated communities, and that have forbidden Palestinians within “Israel” from building new housing or extending existing ones. The worst housing shortages are for Israel’s Palestinian (or “Arab”) 20%, which has grown ten-fold since 1948 but been prevented from building. Right from the start, a quarter of this population were homeless because they were “internally displaced”, not allowed to return to their homes, and had to crowd in with friends and relatives who had taken them in. Further Judaising measures have meant the destruction of whole Beduin villages in the Negev.
♦The closing-up of Gaza and the West Bank, excluding Palestinians from working in Israel, led to the importation of thousands of workers from Africa who, it was hoped, would be temporary and not demand long-term residency rights.
♦ Within the area of original Palestine, the bulldozers have destroyed around 25,000 inhabited houses on one ethno-bureaucratic pretext or another.
♦ In order to erase traces of the original Palestinian inhabitants driven out in 1947-48, some 600 of their villages were flattened and planted over with forests, national parks and picnic sites.
♦ Israel’s economy, despite massive help from foreign backers, is completely dominated by these Zionist schemes. The settlers cost an annual $3 billion. Security and the military dictatorship of the West Bank (equipment, the wall and roadblocks, prisons etc) cost an annual $9 billion. And that’s without counting the IDF. Little wonder that social projects such as ordinary housing built where people need it have declined dramatically.
Activists in the tent protests are consciously working to create unity with all those in need of housing, and not to fall in with the state’s ethnic, geographic and class divisions. The tent cities now include Palestinian Arabs, Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers and homeless people, and organisers are insistent on defending all the protesters alike against dawn raids by some local vigilante residents and the police.
A new united single country of Palestine, based on a democratic constitution giving equal rights for all, would incorporate an elementary basic right right to build, and stop herding people around for ethno-political goals.
If the initial protest (labelled by some as “spoilt brats who have no idea what life is like in the Palestinian camps and villages”) grows into a movement demanding an “equal right to build”, it could prove seriously subversive of a society where no right at all is equal and universal but depends on one’s alloted place in the national, ethnic and religious order of things.
And in any movement of angry and critical people, wider questions can land on fertile ground. For the tiny minority of solidarity activists who have bravely fought on in isolation, it’s a unique chance to organise speakers and meetings and to introduce the tent protests of evicted Palestinians in East Jerusalem and El Arakib to wider sections of Israeli Hebrew society who up to now have been hard to access and interact with.
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