Along Tel Aviv’s most expensive boulevard, where apartments sell for millions of dollars, hundreds of Igloo-shaped tents line the streets. They first appeared on July 14, when a dozen or so young Israelis, responding to a Facebook invitation, set up camp to demand affordable housing. The demonstrations soon spread -- tens of thousands joined in solidarity and added a whole host of social issues to the protest, from conditions in public hospitals to the cost of raising children.
Commentators and politicians disagree about the reasons behind the protest. But they agree that it represents the most powerful social unrest Israel has seen in decades. Never before have so many Israelis taken to the streets over social issues; huge demonstrations have historically been confined to security and peace debates. Now that the peace process has stalled and overall security is relatively stable, the protests have dominated the news cycle and changed the national conversation.
With over 300,000 protesters in the streets this weekend, the demonstrations seem to have no end in sight. Yet even so, the protesters’ grievances remain vague and unfocused. Some call for an end to Israel’s decades-old privatization process and an expansion of the welfare state. Others demand an end to cartels and import taxes -- cornerstones of free-market philosophy. The unifying factor among them is anger toward the status quo. And as the protests widen, they could spark a massive social and political shift in Israel.
For all of their import, the protests look and feel like something between a music festival and a political commune. There is a collective kitchen and an eating tent serving three meals per day for the hundreds of demonstrators camped out in Tel Aviv. An area for "elders" -- those living in the tent city for more than two weeks -- features signs saying "here lives a Ph.D. graduate and a waitress," "Revolution is done with Love, or not at all," and "All of Israel are tents." A compost corner gives the campsite a funny smell.