Today, the night of Wednesday, July 7th in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood activists from the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement and activists from Dahamash village in Lydd/Lod held a teach-in about the planned demolition of Dahamash by the municipality and how it reflects the struggle of Palestinians in Israel’s “mixed” cities. The lecture was given by a representative of Shatil’s “Mixed Cities Project,” a Palestinian living in Israel who has been working with grassroots activists on issues related to the Palestinian minority in Israel. The teach-in was held in Hebrew and in Arabic, and took place between two confiscated houses in the neighborhood: the Al Ghawi family’s house, now home to several dozen religious Jewish families (though the Al Ghawis still pay electricity, water, and municipal taxes for the house), and the Al Kurd house, which has been divided in two by a court order allowing settlers to move into a section of the house, even though the family was previously prevented from using it because it was “illegally” built.
The presentation began with the Palestinian Nakba of 1947-1949 and how it affected Lydd/Lod specifically. The speaker showed how 95% of the city’s Palestinian residents were expelled, while those who managed to return were housed in new neighborhoods with Hebrew names. She showed how the city went from being an important regional and commercial center, a beautiful city with a 6,000 year old history, into a neglected backwater in Israel’s “periphery,” a city “being erased before one’s eyes. She showed how 95% of the city was physically erased after the war, demonstrating that the Nakba is not just about the expulsion of people but the erasure of their homes and the physical landscape in which they lived. The plight of Dahamash, she argued, is simply a continuation of the policies of completely Judaizing Israel’s “mixed cities.” She cited recent quotations from top Israeli officials openly stressing the need to force Palestinians to emigrate out of the country. She suggested that the Judaization of street names and names of neighborhoods is part and parcel of this process, and she quoted senior officials who are “seriously considering” changing Ramle’s name to a Jewish name.
In years following the 1948 war, the responsibility for Judaizing Lydd/Lod was transferred from the military (who destroyed thousands of houses in the city in 1954) to the district planning commissions and the Lydd/Lod municipality. Since construction permits are nearly impossible for Palestinians to receive (even if their land is privately owned) it is estimated that the majority of Palestinian houses in the “mixed” cities are illegally built. She stressed that residents are forced into this situation by the municipality, who give them no choice but to build illegally or leave their city. Thus, entire neighborhoods in Lydd/Lod have been built without permits. Their inhabitants are heavily fined, they don’t receive even the most basic services from the municipality. This situation creates an economic incentive for the municipality to force Palestinians to build illegally since they receive tax and fine revenue but are not required to provide basic services. There are 500 active demolition orders in the city, and residents live in constant fear of demolition. The speaker noted that although the municipality frequently suggests that there is no money to provide services such as garbage collection and school buses, it costs far more to demolish one house than to provide services to an entire neighborhood like Dahamash. This shows quite clearly what the municipality’s priorities are.
The speaker discussed the relationship between Jews and Palestinians in the city over time. Following the 1948 war, Palestinian and Middle Eastern (Mizrahi) Jewish residents lived as neighbors in the Old City area in peace, but in ensuing years the Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods were forcefully separated and separate neighborhoods were established for each. She stressed that impoverished Jewish residents suffer from the same policies of intentional neglect and gentrification that Palestinians suffer from, with any who succeed in attaining any economic security opting to leave the city instead of trying the dying city. All the residents desire, she stressed, is to live in dignity as equal residents in the city of Lydd/Lod, side by side with Jews.
Unfortunately, the municipality and the state of Israel’s policy of ghettoizing the Palestinian population and Judaizing Lydd/Lod and other “mixed” cities creates tremendous tension between the Jewish and Palestinian residents. To give us a sense of the state-sponsored ethnic conflict in the city, she discussed the fact that during election periods, mayoral candidates use pictures of demolished houses to demonstrate to their right-wing Jewish constituents that they will control the Palestinian population with a heavy hand. She quoted the current mayor of Lydd/Lod in an interview with the local newspaper, responding to a question about Palestinian community organizations’ request that streets in which Palestinians live be given Arab names. He demonstrated a deep race-based hostility to Palestinians that she said was the norm rather than the exception in mayors of “mixed” cities. For example, he said that “the first Arab to talk about national issues, I will shoot him, because whenever I shot Arabs in the past, I was the one left alive. They should go to hell.” The speaker showed us horrifying pictures of Israeli youths recruited by the municipality as volunteers to assist in the process of “preparing” a Palestinian home for demolition. She said that it was “much worse than the demolition itself” to see young Jews educated to demolish Palestinian houses. She mentioned the post-disengagement phenomenon of the religious Zionist movement seeing the “mixed” cities as a target for settlement and Judaization, sending Jewish “pioneers” to try to Judaize Palestinian neighborhoods. She differentiates between Jews who want to live in Lydd/Lod as a city, and Jews who want to Judaize Lydd/Lod, to dominate its Palestinian residents, and eventually to replace them with the aid of the municipality.
At this point, she discussed the specific case of Dahamash. This is a village located between Ramle and Lydd/Lod and is home to 500 Palestinians. Exceptionally, they are the recognized owners of the land, which is has not been the case in post-Nakba Lydd/Lod. They had to go to court to receive even the most basic services, such as garbage collection.. Unfortunately, their land has been zoned as “agricultural land” and all structures on it have been declared “illegal.” Thirteen demolition orders on houses in the neighborhood are imminent, while nearby, a construction project initiated by the aforementioned mayor of Lydd/Lod is taking place despite the fact that that land as also previously zoned as agricultural land. The race-based discrimination is apparent. For Palestinian residents who’ve lived on their land for decades and even longer, it is impossible to rezonetheir privately owned land for construction. For housing projects and construction for Jews, however, it is possible and frequently done. She stressed that the recent demolition orders are part of a plan approved in 2000, and that a plan called “Lod 2020” approved by the municipality threatens to bring the Judaization of Lydd/Lod and the condition of its Palestinian residents to new levels of hardship. These are not isolated cases, but well-thought-out plans approved before-hand which the residents of Dahamash see as the continuation of the Nakba of 1948.
On recommendation from members of the district planning council, the residents spent thousands of dollars developing an entire city plan for their neighborhood, in a bid to legalize the existing buildings. A few days ago, the well-thought out, professional, and expensive plan was rejected outright. In this, the residents of Dahamash join the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, who have submitted hundreds of plans, financed entirely from their own pockets, to the planning committees, all of whom have been rejected. Now the demolition orders have again become imminent, and are scheduled to be approved on July 14th. On July 13th, the Sheikh Jarrah solidarity activists will join with the residents of Dahamash and activists across the country to protest the impending race-based house demolitions.
During the teach-in, it was clear to those assembled that this event was not a simple educational opportunity, but also a political statement. Shortly after the presentation began, a police officer cruised by and pulled aside a Palestinian activist. Later, a dozen or so settlers stood beside the stolen Al Ghawi house and watched the presentation. Some clapped when the speaker showed pictures of destroyed Palestinian houses. They were obviously angry at our presence in what they consider to be their neighborhood Discussing the Nakba with the newly-made refugees of Sheikh Jarrah, amidst the glowering stares of orthodox settler youths, brought home to me how immediate and urgent the struggle against Judaization is, and how the struggle is entirely about the simple right of people to be present, when powerful institutions and racist movements just want them to disappear.
As I was riding my bike back across the unmarked border, the Green Line, to Jewish Jerusalem, I had to go through Me’a She’arim. One of the settlers from the neighborhood was there, and he recognized me. He started shouting “Traitor! Traitor! He helps Arabs! Traitor!” I saw the other ultra-orthodox people starting to look up, and I felt fear. I pedaled faster, appreciating a new knowledge of what a society headed for fascism feels like. I remembered that same settler confronting one of the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah: “You are an Arab. You. Are an Arab. You are an Arab.” He responded: “Yes! I am a Palestinian, Muslim Arab” and the settler responded: “People should be ashamed when you call them Arabs.”
The shame of his shamelessness, and of the shamelessness of the state and non-state proponents of Judaiziation, turns my stomach anew every time.