Wed, Jul 27, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Israel announces reforms to defuse housing protests


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday unveiled a series of reforms to address a massive housing crisis which has sparked the biggest social protests seen in the Jewish state since the 1970s.

Over the past 12 days, tens of thousands of Israelis have flocked to camp out on the streets in a series of massive tent protests across the country, which on Sunday reached the gates of the Knesset in Jerusalem.

Such widespread social upheaval has not been seen in Israel since the early 1970s when thousands of people, led by a group called the Black Panthers, took to the streets to protest the racial discrimination suffered by Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern descent.

As tens of thousands rallied in Tel Aviv over the weekend, and hundreds more set up fresh tent camps and blocked roads on Sunday and Monday, the prime minister canceled a one-day trip to Poland in a bid to tackle the unrest.

“The housing crisis in Israel is a real problem,” Netanyahu said in a speech broadcast live on the country’s main TV and radio stations. “The main way to lower the prices of apartments in the long term is to build a lot more apartments.”

Netanyahu criticized “the monopoly” on construction on land held by the Israel Lands Administration. He unveiled a plan to reduce the cost of such land and to attack the cumbersome bureaucracy that has delayed housing starts.

He said about 50,000 homes would be built in the next 18 months, and he pledged to build 10,000 dormitory places for university and college students.

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