Let There be Light!

12 February 2014

Following a multi-year struggle, Arab residents of unrecognized neighborhoods in the mixed city of Lod will finally be connected to the national electricity grid. The victory is the result of a rare collaboration between recently elected mayor Yair Revivo, opposition city council members, activists, and residents.

SHATIL Lod Housing Rights Project Director Abed Shehade, who has been working with neighborhood activists, welcomed the mayor’s precedent-setting decision. “This joint effort is an important step that demonstrates an awareness of the needs of the Arab residents of Lod,” he said. “We will do our utmost to assist the city to advance the legalization of the city’s Arab neighborhoods and to speed up their connection to electricity.”

The plight of unrecognized and unplanned neighborhoods can be a Catch- 22. Arab residents cannot legally obtain building permits so there is an abundance of unauthorized building, which is then subject to demolition. A new master plan is being developed that will recognize the neighborhoods, but in the meantime, approximately half of the 19,000 Arab residents of Lod live in “illegal” buildings and 2,600 housing units are still slated for demolition. Mayor Revivo’s decision is a major step forward toward legalizing the status of the neighborhoods and enabling Arab residents to be full and equal citizens of Lod.

Accompanied by the activist and city council members, Revivo announced at a January Knesset Finance Committee meeting that he would work to connect unrecognized Arab neighborhoods in Lod to the electric grid as soon as possible. “We have a historic opportunity to right an injustice that was done to the city and to the Arab sector,” Revivo told the Knesset. “We have to look the Arab public in the eye and say, ‘You are right, there have been years of injustice!'” Finance Committee head Professor Avishai Braverman promised the Knesset would back Revivo and find the funds to legally recognize the neighborhoods.

The changes in Lod are also reflected in the words of opposition city council member Maha El-Nakib who said: “This is the first time the Arab city council members have come to the Knesset with the municipality. In the past, the municipality was always against us.”

SHATIL has been working on housing and planning rights in Lod for the past decade, and currently is helping Arab and vulnerable Jewish residents influence the city’s new master plan and secure housing rights together with NIF grantee Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights. This work has helped bring about a pause in the home demolitions, mobilized residents and raised awareness of the need for change. The fact that Revivo, a member of the Likud party, would choose to advance this issue is a testament to how “mainstream” the issue has become.

The neighborhoods’ lack of paved streets or sidewalks, public transportation or playgrounds, postal service and garbage removal are matters still to be resolved.