Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Destruction of a Family: Lid

Just ten miles from the bustling, affluent streets of downtown Tel Aviv lies the mixed city of Lid. Lid, unlike Tel Aviv, is not known for its cafes, beaches or open-minded society, but rather for its high crime rate, poverty and inter-religious tensions. Although the community is mixed in terms of numbers, the Jewish and Palestinian Arab residents are separated, geographically and politically, and are treated differently by the Lid local authorities and Israeli government officials.

In recent years, Israeli government officials and Lid local authorities have proposed “strengthening”the city of Lid by promoting building projects for exclusively Jewish neighborhoods.  Government ministers such as Avigor Lieberman and Eli Yishai continuously push for the development of neighborhoods exclusively for discharged soldiers (i.e. Jewish citizens) and Jewish religious nationalists.  In 2010, the local authorities built a wall between Jewish and Palestinian Arab neighborhoods in order to prevent the spread of 'illegal' Arab houses.

70% of Palestinian Arab families in Lid are forced to build 'illegally.'  This means that 70% of the Arab houses in Lid are under threat of demolition and do not receive basic services from the government. With piles of rubble and trash lining the streets, many describe the Arab areas of Lid as resembling a town in Gaza.

Ihab Issa, a local activist involved in education and housing issues, told us that the problem of housing for Palestinian Arab citizens of Lid lies in the fact that there have not been any new government plans to allow for the natural growth of Arab neighborhoods. He said that local authorities claim that 'illegal' houses must be removed because they lie between Tel Aviv and empty fields that can be used for 'development projects.' Ihab wishes that the government would approve the houses built in Arab areas so that the Arab community could contribute to 'development' by building legally. 

From Left to Right: Ihab Issa, Rami Abu Eid and Sabri Abu Eid

In December 2010, an extended family of 60 persons was completed devastated by this problem when all of seven of their homes were demolished, unannounced, by an order from the ILA (see Glossary of Terms). Please watch the video below to hear their story:

According to Ihab and Rami, the initial demolition was carried out by tens of police which surrounded the homes, blocked the street, and declared the area a closed military zone. The Abu Eid family had only learned that their privately owned land, which had been registered since the British Mandate, was confiscated by the ILA in 1995 on the day police came to deliver their warrant for demolition. The warrant stated that the ILA would demolish the homes in 6 months; in reality, their houses were demolished the next day. 

Because the family was completely unprepared for the demolitions, members of the family tried to push past the police blocking the entrances to their homes in order to retrieve money and items of sentimental value. As a result, Rami's father and brother were arrested and Rami's brother was beaten on the head. The 60 family members that were displaced by the demolition were taken in by their grandparents and neighbors while they tried to build caravans in place of their original houses.

In March 2011, the ILA sent an order to demolish the caravans. This time, the entire Palestinian Arab community in Lid came out to support the Abu Eid family. In clashes with the police, three people were lightly injured and a few were arrested. After the demolition of the caravans, the Abu Eid family and a group of activists set up a community protest tent outside of Lid's city hall. Until today, the Abu Eid family has not been given any alternatives from the local authorities and they are not eligible for municipal housing projects because the projects are targeting only Jewish citizens.

When they came to hit us, I said to myself, this is not a state. Every time I watch the news on TV, I never see Jews demolishing other Jews' houses. What kind of state is this? Is this a country with a rule of law? 
- Rami Abu Eid

Ihab told us that the Lid municipality recently drafted of a new city master plan. Unfortunately, the plan, which is meant to account for city planning for the next 25 years, predicts that the Arab community in Lid will only grow to 30,000 people. According to Ihab, the current Arab population is around 24,000 people and with consideration of population's birth rate, the Arab community should reach to 120,000 people in 25 years.

A proper city master plan for Lid would not only legalize thousands of houses, but would also account for essential infrastructure lacking in the Arab neighborhoods. One resident, Yousef, described to us the struggle the Arab community in Lid has fought for the building of a community center.

Click here to listen to Yousef:

Transcript in English:

We pay taxes...taxes which are in very extreme amounts...we pay them. But the problem is that our own taxes don’t come back to us. I mean you take the taxes from here, then you repair the situation there... but the repairing for us here is very small, and they (the members of the local municipality) say you don’t deserve it. I mean, (they say) I'm doing you a favor by doing this little thing. They repair this pit here, and thinks he's doing us a favor. But I pay taxes. I pay all Arnona (municipal taxes), the taxes, all the dues on me from the state…and for the municipalities, everything. But I don’t get anything.
In 2008, Mayor Elan Harari, in front of 380 students and their families, I mean, around 1000 people were here, he said, I will build you a Matnas (a community center). A mini community center, I mean a small community center.  Also in front of little children, he says, I will do this for you… so the children got excited… but I see that you haven't started yet.  (He said) he would give the key in 2009 to the residents of the neighborhood.
We go and ask him about it… then (we discover that) he quit, someone else replaced him: Munir Nitzan.  So we tell him we met in the Knesset about this thing…and what does he say? 'We are looking for land on which we can build a community center for the Arab sector.' But look here is the land! Here is the land, it exists here for the community center. This exists for the community center! (points to open plot of land near Arab elementary school)
Sewage running through the streets just across from Arab elementary school

Open potholes outside Arab elementary school

Arab kindergarten that was burned in a fire in 2011 that has yet to be rebuilt