Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Separate But Equal?: Haifa

Haifa is often referred to as the model of “co-existence” in Israel. The city has the highest population of Palestinian citizens in an urban area, at 10% of the city's residents. The other 90% of the city's population is Jewish, with more than 25% of that population from the Soviet Union. While it is true that clashes between Arab and Jewish citizens have been limited, these two communities are not living in any sense of equality. Arabs and Jews in Haifa live in separate neighborhoods, go to separate schools and even frequent separate restaurants. Just a quick trip from the wealthy, predominately Jewish areas in the north of Haifa's Carmel mountain to the poor, predominately Palestinian areas in the south of the mountain (i.e. Wadi Nisnas and Halisa) gives evidence to the neglect that Arab residents face in terms of municipality resources. Similarly to other areas we've explored in Israel, the Arab community is solely in danger of house demolitions due to inadequate distribution of building permits and inadequate neighborhood planning, while the Jewish community lives comfortably and continues to grow each year without such problems. 

"Illegal" Palestinian structure in Haifa

Our story in Haifa comes from the Abu Shukar family living on Bar Yehuda street in Haifa. Their extended family had been living in a house on this street for over 70 years. After being denied a building permit and after enduring many court cases, the Haifa municipality decided to demolish the Bushkar home in 2005, against the will of the family, many activists and Arab members of Knesset.

Children of the Abu Shukar family

We sat down and spoke to Narjis Abu Shukar, a cousin of Mariam and Basim Abu Shukar, residents of the contested house. She witnessed first-hand the demolition and was injured by the police while resisting the operation. Please listen and/or read her testimony below.

It was a very difficult day; they came early, at 7 in the morning maybe, 6 in the morning… The members of Knesset were gathered here. There was not a big gathering at that time because it was still early. There were not many people during the demolition. Only the  members of the Knesset were there, and the lawyer, Walid Khamis, a member in the municipality.

Many came from the special (police) unit. Some on foot and some on horses… like going to war. There was a small amount of people standing in front of them. We were a very small amount here because it was so early and people didn’t gather yet. The time was very early.. they chose this early time so no one will be gathered here.

So… in order that no one resists the demolition, they closed all the streets of Haifa, from Checkpost, Shemen...the cars were not allowed to enter because they didn't want that people arrive here to the house.

Then they (the police) arrived here in very large numbers. Maybe one thousand. On horses. And hitting people… they entered the houses, there were old women here, they forced them to leave and hit them.

Even the Arab Knesset members, who also have a voice in the state, they didn’t have a word, because they were all hit. Even one of those Knesset members’ arm was broken and he went to the hospital.

And I was with the owner of the house, and we decided to do something, like in order to threaten them as opposed to what they do…we don’t have guns or anything. We can’t resist when they have shotguns and sticks and beating… So I was with the owner of the house holding gas cylinders in order to threaten them… like, if they come, we were going to explode them… and the end, they came upstairs with more than 20 persons from the special (police) unit. So I couldn’t go down because I have a problem in my back, they threw me from above the house to the ground below.

They tied my hands and my hand was broken. I went to the hospital. I mean, they started in a violent way, beating everyone… one small child was standing; they hit him with a rifle. A lot of people were in the hospital too. They were prepared with ambulances and fire-fighters. They prepared everything.

And after that, they took us out of the houses, they started to use tear gas, and water tanks, and there were not a big amount of people... They were like going to war…

I was hoping that they would stop the demolition. The Knesset members have voice in the state. Nearly all Arab members of the Knesset were here. Wasel Taha, Mohammad Barake, Azmi Bshara, Talab El Sani’… there were many present here. Even with all of this, they demolished… and the Knesset members were hit and humiliated as well… and they used tear gas everywhere…

They were (it seemed) coming not to demolish but like someone seeking revenge, and wants to kill… it’s not that their aim was to demolish the house. If it was to demolish the house, they could have taken out the people from houses in a better a way than this and then they could demolish… but they started to hit…

But at the end the house was demolished; I was at the hospital in that period. I saw it on the TV and I went through a trauma.
Original image of the demolition of the Abu Shukar house
It affected my daily life for sure… they do this only for Arabs. When any Arab does anything, they start to threat and demolish… they make us pay more taxes. But for the Jews they don’t do these things. When a Jew adds a room to his house, or builds a balcony, or builds another flat... all are legal. Only for Arabs it is not. It an occupation by force. They say "we take your lands despite you, not according to your will."
They want us to be weak with all of their humiliation, power, and whipping. But I don’t think… we are not going to allow them to dominate us.
We are not going to give up our lands. This is our land, since before the establishment of the state, and we have documents proving this. It is not possible that someone comes and takes us out of our houses. Even in the worst situations, if there was killing and blood, we would prefer to die and stay proud for something belongs to us. It is not easy for them to take something from us.

I hope that they leave us alone and let us live, without courts and problems, and demolitions all the time and only for Arabs. Nobody cares about what the Jews do. They build or don’t build, nobody asks about it. But if an Arab puts a stone in his/her house, the municipality comes immediately and demolish at the second day. Only for Arabs.

Mariam Abu Shukar, the mother of the family, recalled the event as ironic because while her home was being demolished, Haifa's mayor was on a tour in Canada, allegedly raising funds for “Jewish-Arab coexistence” projects in Haifa. Ultimately, the only ones that helped the Abu Shukar family was the local Islamic movement, which financially supported them to rebuild their home. The Abu Shukar family now lives in a mobile home, a cheaper alternative to building a true house infrastructure, in case their house is demolished once more. 

Rebuilt, moveable house