Israeli tent city springs up in protest of housing costs - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Israeli tent city springs up in protest of housing costs

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL (CNN) - Israeli demonstrators fed up with high housing prices have gone under canvas and set up camp, refusing to move until their government gets the message.

The protest area looks like a standard camp ground. It has rows of pitched tents providing shelter for those looking to escape the blistering sun, while others beat the heat with picnics of ice cream and beer.

But this is not a summer vacation and the campground here is not in a park, but smack in the middle of one of Tel Aviv's most exclusive neighborhoods.

"The first people that decided to come here, are simply people who's rent contracts had expired and they could not afford the raise that their landlords wanted and so they decided that they are gonna come here and they are gonna live in tents," tent city protester Philip Zundelovitch said.

That was two weeks ago and in the days that followed hundreds of more tents with thousands of protesters started appearing not only in Tel Aviv but in other major Israeli cities as well.

The issue is not only anger over escalating real estate costs because of a housing shortage, but a broader middle class outcry about increasing prices on everything from education, to health care, to cottage cheese.

Billed by some as Israel's version of "Tahrir Square," the rapidly, social network inspired tent city movement has prompted a fierce debate in Israel about what sort of country it wants to be.

"It's at least a struggle on the welfare state. Whether we shall improve it and whether we shall revive the positive aspects that were in the welfare state of Israel some decades ago, or whether we should go to the direction of the United States," Mair Saban, Former Israeli Cabinet Minister said.

This week the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took notice and announced a series of measures aimed at increasing the amount of affordable housing on the market.

But government pledges notwithstanding, the number of tents has increased and protesters said they are on the verge of forcing major change - even if they are not sure what change they want.

"We don't really know, you know it's like a new country this place and we are two weeks old. And we came here with an idea and that idea is becoming a nation and we are discovering slowly what this is about. We are not sure yet," another tent city protester, Or Teppler, said.

Organizers said they will keep to their tents until they are satisfied the government response is serious and the police, as of yet, have not moved to shut down the ten cities. So in the meantime protesters will while away the time in their urban camping expedition.

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