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Inside Tel Aviv's tent city

By Guy Azriel and Deborah Doft, CNN
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Israelis protest soaring cost of living
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Activists set up a tent city in Tel Aviv to protest for affordable housing for the middle class
  • Now numbering hundreds, their complaints range from cheaper education to higher wages
  • Average apartment in Israel has risen 102% in cost in 20 years, according to Globes Financial
  • Average price of house in U.S. is $100,000, compared with $300,000 in Israel
RELATED TOPICS
  • Israel

(CNN) -- In the shadow of upscale cafes and high end apartments this leafy street in the heart of Tel Aviv is an experiment in social protest. The pedestrian promenade that divides tony Rothschild Boulevard is now lined with colorful tents and filled with equally colorful people. Its temporary residents are students, young families and retirees. A pop up community has emerged.

Philip Zundelovitch works nights and spends his days in the tents. "It's very optimistic which is quiet unusual for Israel. People enjoy themselves here, they feel that finally they met a bunch of people that think just like them. Now we just all come together and claim what we deserve".

It has been over three weeks since a handful of activists set up a tent city in Israel's second largest city. At first these strangers were protesting for a single cause: affordable housing for the middle class. Now, they are a community with a long list of complaints, ranging from cheaper education to food and higher wages and a general concern about the growing gap between rich and poor. The movement has inspired protests across this country.

"The middle class in Israel finds it hard to live here, it's hard to raise children, it is very hard to find suitable apartments. You just cannot suffer anymore, you just have to come to the streets and protest," Noga Klinger, a protester, told CNN.

For some perspective, consider this. According to Israel's Globes Financial news agency, over the course of the past 20 years, the price of an average apartment in Israel has gone up 102%. The average price of a house in the United States is $100,000 for just over 1,000 sq feet, compared with $300,000 for a similar house in Israel, while the average salary in the States is 55% higher than the average salary in Israel. The price of an average 1000 square feet apartment in Israel is 1.1 million shekels ($308,000)

On this hot and lazy afternoon, families and their dogs lounge on couches set up in the center of the tents and engage in conversations about their cause. The atmosphere is laid back and spirits are high. "I've been here two weeks. It's pretty amazing. Yeah the conditions are not ideal, you've got bugs, sometimes food shortage, sometimes water shortage, the public toilets are quiet problematic, but still, the people here are amazing, what is going on here is just absolutely incredible so it puts everything else aside", one protestor told us.

Having grown into hundreds of residents, the camp is now a living, breathing and functioning community. Each tent has an address, morning papers are delivered and there is even a working kitchen. Adi, one of the volunteers and a self described 'homeless VIP' says the kitchen feeds close to 300 people per day. "We make 3-4 meals. At night we give fruits and cake."

Despite the collective spirit, this burgeoning neighborhood also has its challenges. "Sometimes it's fun and sometimes it's very exhausting", Lisa, a tent resident tells CNN. "We have a lot of things to take care of." She complains of petty crime and drug addicts looking to steal money.

While many activists say the protest movement has united Israelis nationwide, others still believe they have been left out. "We are trying to provoke this white, liberal protest to become more concerned with the lower classes of the Jewish society and the Palestinian minority inside Israel, which until now the mainstream of this protest chose not to address," said Mahammed Jabali, an Arab-Israeli from Jaffa.

Whether this unprecedented social protest will re-shape the future of the Jewish state is still unclear. For many, there is a sense that this could very well be a turning point for the country. "If I wasn't believing in it I wouldn't be here. I believe we can make a difference", another protestor told us.

Zundelovitch believes that despite the festive atmosphere, the goals of the movement are serious. "We are doing it totally by understanding that if it will not happen this week peacefully now, five years from now it will be maybe violent. It will be a lot more aggressive and a lot uglier. That's why I think that it's quite incredible that people understood that we need to act now to prevent what the future holds."

 
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