Last week, I had a discussion with a friend of mine about my living situation. It happened at a little spot right next to my current Tel Aviv apartment while he was ordering himself something to drink, and I declined politely. The Israeli pride inside of him started overthinking, out loud, and he nearly exploded with rage over my non-existent order of beer. He went on a non-stop rant about my financial situation and blamed it on me — on the simple most elementary fact that I chose to live where I live. And the fact of the matter is, he’s not wrong.
When I was still a peripheral teenager with no intention of moving to the big scary city, I couldn’t help but hear about the social protest going on there. I’ll explain: five years back, a movement of young individuals decided that the conditions they are forced to live in in Tel Aviv are not normal. The rent is higher than it should be, the job market offers below minimum wage and the expenses for basic utilities and products are just unaffordable. A young lady by the name of Daphni Leef decided that she wouldn’t take it anymore and with the help of a hopeful group of people, brought the “fight” to the streets.
They arranged several tent camps throughout the city- protesting the high rent costs, they gathered rallies and forced the people to recognize the size of the problem at hand. By the end of the protests, most of Israel’s middle-working class took part in them. They all felt that while the living expenses grew rapidly across the country alongside taxes, they had no possible way of providing for themselves.
The protest went deeper, touching other subjects and bringing in a lot more people to support any kind of change; from student organizations to doctors, from young people who want to live respectfully, to adults who want to make sure that one day their children will be able to do so. For a moment there it seemed like a change is bound to happen. The government even held a special committee assembled to discuss the matters brought up by this protest. I remember feeling proud of my people, proud of those who finally decided to stand up and make sure that all of us could live happily ever after.
Five years later and I’m still forced to work two minimum wage jobs in order to keep myself from falling into a bottomless pit of never-ending debt. The protest came and went, and other than a little noise and a small tent camp right next to the train station of “Savidor Center” nothing really happened. People grew frustrated and left the city, searching for places that will be cheaper to live in. Extremists even packed their bags and migrated across the globe, but I sat there last week in the middle of Tel Aviv, soaking in the humidity, and, with a smile on my face, informed my friend that I will not budge from this city, my city, until I am forced to.
Call it Zionism, call it stubbornness, but the fact that I live here is not a privilege. It’s not a privilege to live next to your working place or university. It’s not a privilege to choose where you want to be and it shouldn’t be considered that way. In a democratic country, it is not a privilege to move around — it’s your basic right and the moment we will understand it we will be in a better place. It’s our duty to stay here, to fuel this city with what’s best about it: it’s people. It’s open-minded, energetic youthful people who are willing to stand up for themselves when they need to. This city is great not because of its location or real-estate assets but because of what it stands for; a city full of life, for those living in it.
My friend listened carefully and shook his head in disapproval. He probably still doesn’t understand that staying here is my own social protest, and the fact that I didn’t get that beer the other night might eventually lower the costs for us all. It just might. In a perfect world. Until then, let’s hope that another protest will arise, and that this time I will have the chance to see real changes happening.