I’m pitching a tent — for Israel’s future

Most of us can agree that housing prices are way too high, salaries are way too low, and the future is looking bleak. The time for change is now

It’s the same old story. And maybe it’s your story, too: I work around the clock, trying to build some future here, and there is never enough money to pay for it all. Because no matter what I do, it all adds ups: rent, utility bills, municipal taxes, food, travel expenses, tuition, car payments, car repairs, not to mention every little unexpected expense that pops up out of nowhere — like that time I broke my glasses and had to come up with the cash to have them fixed.

And at the end of each month I get a call from the bank because of my overdraft. Again.

This was my life in Israel until the day my landlord raised my rent so high that I couldn’t pay it anymore.

So I considered my options:

1. Hole up in a tiny one-room studio where the toilet is in the kitchen

2. Carve out some some territory in a crowded apartment where every time you turn around you smell one of your roommates’ armpits

3. Run away to a far-off land and “sell paintings”

4. Or, as a last resort, I could ask my parents for help.

But check it: I’m almost 30 years old and way too old for this. I’ve worked hard all my life — I excelled in my studies and served in an elite unit in the army. I’m earning a master’s degree, and have worked over half my life in the education system. But I still have almost nothing to show for it. And I’m not the only one: Most of my friends — other people just as educated, just as talented — are struggling to make ends meet.

It isn’t right.

The call for affordable housing started in the summer of 2011: Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets, peacefully demanding justice against a system that never fails to fail them.

Young Israelis protest the high price of housing in a 'tent city' on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, summer 2011 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Young Israelis protest the high price of housing in a ‘tent city’ on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, summer 2011 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The protests started a conversation about fairness — and I think most of us can agree that housing prices are way too high, and salaries are way too low. And while there were many around the world who admired our work, very little has changed on a practical level.

Clearly, I thought, it’s time to do it again.

But I wasn’t quite sure how until the next afternoon, while walking to a class at Tel Aviv University: This is where I would live – on the campus grounds. At first, I thought it was because there simply is no affordable housing for students, or that the housing market is abusing us. But then, in one of those (rare) “aha!” moments, I realized that it’s about a much more challenging underlying sentiment.

It’s about a general feeling of degradation and abuse at the hands of our own economy. It’s about the sense of an almost-erotic relationship between our politicians and large corporations, a welfare institution that tyrannizes us, a tax bureau that incessantly pesters us, and banks that rape us month in and month out. And all of it accumulates into a crushing feeling that my future has been taken away from me.

And I finally realized: I’m not alone. Like so many around me, I’m becoming a drone in a miserable today, with no prospects other than an even bleaker tomorrow. This is the life for many of us, and we must change it. Now.

So instead of sitting around, sipping hafuh, and bitching about the situation with my friends, I’m going to pitch a tent at the University of Tel Aviv and live there as a symbol of protest. Maybe you think it’s corny. But do you know what’s really corny? Whining about a problem and doing nothing to fix it. Or worse — expecting others to fix it for you. And as a student, I feel that now is the perfect time to do this thing — because in 10 years, I hope that we’ll have changed the system, and that I’ll be sleeping in a tent with my kids on a camping trip instead of living hand-to-mouth like I’m living now.

Tel Aviv University (photo credit: Liron Almog/Flash90)
Tel Aviv University (photo credit: Liron Almog/Flash90)

I’m pitching this tent in protest — as a way to continue the dialogue about the bigger issues plaguing our economy. And I hope you’ll join me in any way you can — whether you pitch your tent alongside mine at Tel Aviv University, or open one in solidarity on another campus. Whether you start a discussion with friends and colleagues about the staggering cost of living, or share your story with others as I am doing here.

Throughout history, all over the world, students have been the catalysts for change — and that’s exactly what we’re going to do in Israel. We will take the campus grounds in order to discuss and understand — and initiate ways to reclaim Israel’s broken institutions, our self-respect, and our freedom.

If each of us does a little, together we can do a lot. Because it all boils down to this: An uncompromising demand supported by thousands is the first step to a legislative, political, and consciousness change.

About the Author
Barak Levi Segal, a student activist, was one of the leaders of the social justice protests that swept Israel in the summer of 2011