|International Women’s Day Protesting Lod Demolitions|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
International Women’s Day was marked in Lod by some four hundred Arabs and Jews who gathered at Lod Municipality City Hall to protest the continuing demolition of Arab homes. “The situation we’re in has given Arab women the strength to go out into the streets and stand up for their rights.” said Buthaina Dabit, director of SHATIL's Mixed Cities project, who played a leading role in bringing together activists from the Lod Popular Committee, Hutwa, Amnesty International Israel, Community Advocacy, Naam, Physicians for Human Rights, Rabbis for Human Rights, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Tarabut-Hithabrut, Solidarity-Sheikh Jarrah and other groups and organizations.
Prominent among the demonstrators were members of the Abu Eid families, seventy people, most of them children, whose homes were demolished in mid-December 2010. Earlier this year, Lod’s new mayor, Meir Nitzan visited the families, expressing his shock and shame that Israeli children should suffer such a traumatic experience.
At last week’s session of the Knesset Committee for the Interior and Environment, Mayor Nitzan said that a solution must be found – not only for the Abu Eid families, but for the broader phenomenon of building without permits - a situation prevalent because the lack of official urban planning and de facto discrimination prevents Arab residents from receiving building permits. The mayor announced that he intends to facilitate the retroactive legalization “of the majority, but not all” of the existing unpermitted building, and that he believes there should be a one-year moratorium in which “we create a new policy, we take a pause and there are no demolitions”. Nitzan also said that he intends to ensure that an entire new neighborhood project be built for the Arab community.
However, the mayor’s past actions may have cost him credibility on the issue. Nitzan’s order has brought about the heavy-handed destruction of infrastructure for the families’ intended temporary mobile home shelters, used until they will be permitted to build permanent structures. The mayor is adamant: “I won’t allow any new illegal building”. He prefers that the Housing Ministry arrange for the allocation of temporary alternative housing for the families elsewhere.
Such a move taps deeply into painful recesses of Palestinian memory and narrative. The Abu Eid families were ‘relocated’ once before by the Israeli government, about 50 years ago, from their lands in the north to this very patch of land in Lod. Some among these families and their supporters attribute sinister motives to the authorities and Jewish extremist elements in Lod. According to Farida Shaaban, a leading woman activist from Dahmash, whose home is under threat of demolition: “All the demolitions in Lod and Ramle are meant to make Arabs leave the mixed cities and to prevent coexistence.”
Are the residents’ fears legitimate? Is Mayor Nitzan playing Jekyll or Hyde in this story? Time will tell. Meanwhile the Abu Eid children continue their disrupted, homeless lives, their infrequent attendance at school, their exposure to the trauma of destruction of temporary shelters and dispersal of demonstrations by their families outside the municipality. But this time, on International Women’s Day, the well-attended protest passed by peacefully. And that, at least, is no small success for all those involved.