This was written two weeks ago and sent to hundreds of American newspapers — only one of which said they’d run it. We never herd back from them after embargoing this piece for days. It’s not quite timely anymore, but these were my views on the “J14” protest movement in Israel, and the analysis still holds, though the protests have died down and will likely now take — conveniently? — a back seat to recent security issues.
Responding to the hundreds of thousands of protesters in Israel’s streets demanding affordable housing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has not responded with the opening of land within Israel for more development, but a massive expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Israel’s “J14” protests have been compared to the huge demonstrations of the “Arab Spring” that led to the ousting of two dictators and the undermining of several more. But though J14 is supposed to be about “social justice,” it is of the type that most Israelis consider within the pale: food and housing prices, entitlements, and relations between the several Jewish ethnic groups that reside in the country. The occupation of Palestine is beyond it, and is essentially absent from the discussion.
The cost of Israeli housing is due to overly strict regulation and the hoarding of land by the state land trust, paired with a lackluster economy that has never provided robust wages for workers, especially those belonging to the non-European Jewish castes. The solution has not been to liberalize the housing industry and shake up the moribund economy, but to use the protests as a pretext for further settlement expansion on Palestinian land. The Interior Ministry is expected to approve some 4,300 units of housing in the West Bank for Israeli Jews.
The protests have allowed the state to dramatically ramp up the “acceptable” number of these Jews-only homes on land stolen from Palestinians. Just this past March the US weakly criticized a plan to build a mere 500 settlement apartments.
On the surface, it could seem that this would indeed bring down the cost of housing in Israel, even if you don’t care about legitimate Palestinian grievances. But Israel spends more than half a billion US dollars every year on maintaining and protecting this occupation and making sure Arab anger persists for many more years. In light of the two- to three-billion dollars in aid Israel receives from the United States each year, one could come to the not-rash conclusion that Americans fund this occupation.
Palestinian activists are rightly ho-hum about the movement. Electronic Intifadah’s Ali Abuminah yawns on his Twitter account at the lack of J14 profundity as another writer on the site less-snarkily questions the movement’s radical intentions.
Israeli columnist Didi Reider thinks J14 challenges something “deeper” than the occupation — the “principle of separation” itself. But even Reider’s account doesn’t show a willingness of Israelis to apply the alleged undermining of this “principle” outside of the 1967 borders to actual Palestinians living under occupation, instead of just grudgingly accepting that Palestinians with Israeli nationality cards should probably be treated a bit more equally.
The J14 movement could have been used to bring about radical social change in not just Israel’s regimented, top-down economy, but also in the relations between all the individuals who live in Palestine. Instead, it seems Israelis are just fine hitting a perennial pressure-valve used by Israel’s ruling class — taking another bite out of the hide of the long-suffering and marginalized Palestinian.