Israelis protest rising cost of living

Some of the largest protests in Israel's history spread across the country, with demonstrators upset about the state of the nation's economy.
Thousands of Israelis gather to protest against the cost of living in Israel, in a main square in central Tel Aviv on Saturday. (Ariel Schalit/Associated Pres)

Some of the largest protests in Israel's history spread across the country Saturday, with demonstrators upset about the state of the nation's economy and the rising cost of living.

Between 370,000 and 400,000 people rallied in numerous cities and towns, in what began as a protest over house prices, freelance reporter Irris Makler told CBC News. 

The first protests began two months ago.

Many middle-class Israelis are upset over the high cost of food, education, housing and healthcare.

Makler said the protests has become about social justice generally, "about money trickling down from the rich to the poor, and about people being able to live in some kind of dignity and actually pay their bills."

Makler said she saw one placard that said, "We're prepared to die for Israel, but we can't live in it."

Saturday's demonstrations — centred in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa — marked the climax of a summer-long grassroots protest movement that has ballooned to a nationwide phenomenon.

The protest movement and its slogan of "the people demand social justice" has thrust Israel's economic issues to the top of the country's agenda and brought thousands into the streets each week.

Israel's economy is enjoying rapid growth, and unemployment is at its lowest in decades at around 5.5 per cent.

But the country's economic strength has not benefited all. The ranks of the working poor have grown dramatically as wealth has increasingly become concentrated among a small group of tycoons.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has responded to the protests by forming a committee to examine calls for reform.

With files from The Associated Press