In 1990, the German band The Scorpions released the song “Wind of Change”. A few years later that song became the anthem of the revolution in Eastern Europe, as the world watched the Iron Curtain collapse. In 2011, the same wind of change was brushing through the streets of Israel. Now, it’s not the case of life as it was in the Soviet Union, because we are not living under government oppression. Still, life here has become increasingly difficult in the past few years as economic issues strike again and again. This does not make us unique as it has been happening everywhere in the world. The only difference is that we are a very small country and most of the budget goes to security out of sheer necessity.
It all started with a young woman. Just like everyone else, she went to college and, after graduation, began her career as a film and video editor. It may not be the highest paid profession but, as a guy that works in editing from time to time, I can tell you that it’s very satisfying work. That woman, Dafni Leef, was evicted from her apartment because the owner wanted to raise the price of the rent, a typical event in Tel Aviv, as housing prices soar to unseen heights. Dafni, like many renters, couldn’t afford to keep the apartment and so she decided to do something about it. She grabbed a tent, and moved to Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. She opened her own camp ground in the middle of one of Tel Aviv’s most affluent streets. What was her plan? To stay there until the government did something about the price of rent in Tel Aviv.
At this point, it is crucial to understand Dafni and the motivation behind her actions. Dafni Leef is not the poor, orphaned child of novels. She was raised in a wealthy family and wanted for nothing. Like any young person, once she had the chance, she moved out on her own only to struggle to finish each month with enough money to start the next. Her struggle was real, and it was a social struggle from day one. Throughout the summer the winds of change were blowing from multiple directions but most strongly were the political winds that will forever blow in the State of Israel, and will always try to take over the one true voice of change.
This summer, that one true voice became the voice of thousands, as more and more people started setting up their tents on Rothschild and in other cities throughout the country. One person’s protest about the cost of housing quickly became a huge movement against all aspects of the ridiculous price of living in Israel; from the price of cottage cheese to the unbelievable hours and tasks assigned to medical interns in hospitals. People went to work each morning because they had to, but spent their nights in the tents because they had to make a change. It was time to augment a system that just doesn’t work anymore.
Four major demonstrations were conducted throughout the summer, as citizens came together to march through the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel. Massive assemblies were held in three different locations, chosen specifically for their lack of connection to the history of Israel, politics or security matters. The final protest of the summer attracted half a million people in the Tel Aviv rally alone. The government has no choice but to rethink how social matters are handled.
In response to the social changes this summer, the Tel Aviv-Yaffo Academic College recently hosted the first Israeli Congress of Social Issues. As the vice president of the student union (the students national union was one of the strongest voices during the summer), I was proud to see people from all over the country, gathering with the leaders of the protest, members of the parliament, figures from the press and host of other experts for a full day of activities, lectures and discussion, all focused on Israeli people and the direction of our social circumstances.
There were many interesting lectures, movies, and open discussions as well as representation from organizations across the country offering volunteer opportunities. Even the first rain of summer (and we don’t get a lot of that here) didn’t stop us from pursuing our main goal, working to improve our lives for our future and our children.
It was inspiring to see how so many people, from different places and with different problems could sit together, talk, and understand each other. The communication was amazing and sessions were very productive. It was also great to see members of the parliament there and to know that they are not just talking and thinking by themselves. They came down from the Knesset (The Israeli parliament), showing true leadership, in order to listen to us, to make sure they understood what we had to say.
Much has changed from 1990, but yet a lot has stayed the same. Still, we can only look to a brighter future, one that we can see more clearly now, after the events of the summer.
*Special thanks to Dolev for his contribution