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Israelis Protest High Cost of Living

Israeli demonstrators block a main junction with tents as they protest against rising housing prices and social inequalities, Tel Aviv, Israel, July 25, 2011

Economic problems are spurring a growing wave of protests in Israel on Saturday.

Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets of cities around the country to protest the high cost of living, from food to gasoline to housing. They carried signs saying, "The people want social justice."

"We work hard," aprotester told a crowd, "but we do not have enough money to get through the month!"

Wages are low in Israel compared to Western countries, but prices are often higher. For instance, gasoline costs $2.20 a liter, and the price of a modest apartment in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem can be $500,000.

This has prompted a wave of protests, and demonstrator Dana Schiffer says the average Israeli is fed up.

"There is a problem here. An entire nation has come together, and I think we are fighting for the people with the people," said Schiffer.

High prices have created a widening gap between rich and poor. Schiffer says this harms the State of Israel because young people are being forced to search for greener pastures outside the Jewish state.

"We do want to develop this country," added Schiffer. "We want young people to stay here and be able to live here and not have to go to Europe or to the [United] States in order to develop their lives."

Protesters are demanding that the government lower taxes, subsidize housing and bring prices down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded by announcing a string of reforms, such as creating more apartments for students and selling state-owned land at a discount to lower the price of housing.

But housing is only one issue. Food prices have skyrocketed and doctors are striking for higher pay and better conditions.

An Israeli newspaper poll showed strong public support for the protests, 87 percent, alongside a steep drop in support for Netanyahu. The Prime Minister's approval rating has plunged from 51 percent before the protests began more than six weeks ago, to just 32 percent today.