Checkpoints were set up throughout the city of Lod on Thursday, as police and
border policemen checked passers-by for suspicious activity, and mounted
policemen trotted down city streets.
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Above it all, a blimp rented by the
police filmed the scene below, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and
Interior Minister Eli Yishai met with Mayor Ilan Hariri. The operation to
restore public order and rid Lod (population about 68,000) of illegal firearms
was launched on Tuesday night, following two murders there in the course of 30
hours. Both killings involved Arab residents of the city with no criminal record
who were shot dead in driveby shootings in front of their children.
wasn’t the first time that Lod had made headlines after a resident died in a
hail of gunfire. Only 20 minutes from Tel Aviv, the ancient Jewish/Arab city has
burned itself a place in the Israeli psyche as home to drug dens, or “ATMs,”
selling low-grade heroin hand over fist throughout its poorer districts, as well
as the gunfights and blood feuds among its Arab crime families.
time, the murders made the national news and suddenly, for the police, the prime
minister and the media, Lod became a national priority, at least for a
Netanyahu vowed on Thursday that Lod “will not become the Wild
West,” and that the government would invest in its social services and
infrastructure, while Yishai added that the country needed to encourage 50,000
people to move there.
As the sudden influx of policemen, border policemen
and politicians took place this week, locals spoke of decades of neglect by the
law enforcement authorities and the national leadership.
them, the lack of personal security has been worsened by declining relations
between the Jewish and Arab residents, and the loss of a sense of shared purpose
that typified the city in past generations.
At the Lod branch of the
Singor Foundation, which works to improve the well-being of residents of the
blighted Ramat Eshkol neighborhood, manager Sigalit Givon-Fedida spoke of a
local police force that has been all but absent for years.
“We rarely see
police around here; even when people call them to report shootings, they only
show up after a very long time,” Givon-Fedida said. She pointed to a community
police station recently built across the street, where she said police were
rarely, if ever, stationed or available, especially at
Givon-Fedida said the lack of law enforcement in the neighborhood
encouraged crime, from graffiti to littering to disobeying traffic laws, leading
eventually to murder.
Ramat Eshkol, while arguably not as troubled as the
predominantly Arab Rakevet and Pardes Snir neighborhoods, bears the marks of a
neglected inner-city slum, with trash and burned garbage cans strewn across
vacant lots between the decaying apartment blocks.
The district is around
70 percent Arab, 20% Ethiopian and 10% elderly veteran Israelis. In addition to
racial tension between the Arabs and the Ethiopians, there are schisms within
the Arab community among Beduin, Israeli Arabs from the Lod area, and “mixed”
families of Arabs from Israel married to Palestinians from the West
Ramat Eshkol is also home to a large number of “collaborators” –
Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip who helped the security
forces during the first intifada and were relocated to Lod.
have often had a very hard time adjusting to their new locale, and cut off from
their extended families, they have become one of the most disadvantaged
communities in the city.
“The highest number of complaints deal with the
‘collaborators’; police won’t touch them, and because they are such a poor
community, high numbers of them go into crime. In addition, many of them are
unaware of their rights, don’t speak Hebrew and don’t know how to receive the
social services they are owed as citizens,” Givon-Fedida said.
“collaborators” were mentioned time and again by Lod residents, including a
group of three elderly Ashkenazi men sitting outside a kiosk on Wednesday night,
two blocks from where Sami Hijazi was gunned down on Sunday.
brought into Lod all of these ‘collaborators’ and Arabs from the West Bank who
married Israelis and moved here. It’s no longer safe in the Old City at night,
and whoever has the ability to leave the city is leaving. What they need is for
a religious mayor, a mayor who is a settler, to come in and deal with this
problem,” said David, who, like his friends, has lived in the city since
David’s friend Arye agreed.
“If I’d known it would be like
this someday, I would have fled this place,” he said.
Sara, who was born
in the city to parents who made aliya from the Republic of Georgia, agreed that
things had greatly declined in recent years, saying, “Now they’re killing women,
killing people in front of their children. All the red lines are being crossed,
and people have lost their values. These days, in Lod, there are more guns than
in the IDF. Everything has changed.”
Like others, Sara said the
problem was largely due to a lack of law and order.
“People don’t have
faith in the law, so they don’t pay attention to it. People here do
whatever they want. Everything is allowed here. It’s why in Lod we call
it the City of Sin,” she said.
Still, Sara expressed a sense of pride
common among Lod residents, saying, “I wouldn’t live anywhere else, though. Even
if you gave me a villa in Rishon [Lezion], I wouldn’t leave here. This is my
home; everybody in Lod feels this way.”
Aviv Wasserman, who runs the Lod
Community Foundation, said that politicians “need to know that Lod is a city
with great things, not only murders. The police deployment will help deal with
the symptoms of the disease, but the disease needs to be treated at the roots,
with social projects and investment, not just with a company of Border Police
Lifelong Lod resident Faten, who volunteers at the foundation,
also expressed pride in the ancient city despite its problems.
“This is a
city that has it all: history, archeology and culture, as well as crime and
murder,” Faten said. “It’s true that it’s very hard here, there are many
problems, but there is so much soul. I would never live anywhere else, there is
just something special about this city.”
According to Faten, the problems
in the city are linked to neglect by the state and the lack of community
services and cultural institutions for the children, “who have nothing to do and
nowhere to go and end up getting into crime. And when it comes to the firearms,
which is a new thing in the past 10 years, if guns are around, people are going
to use them.”
Nonetheless, Faten added, “It’s like they say in Israel, I
don’t have another country; I don’t have another city.”
Thursday, the Ramle Magistrate’s Court extended by five days the remand of three
men suspected of orchestrating the murder of Lod resident Amal Halili, who was
gunned down in the city on Monday night while sitting in her car with her
daughter and younger brother.
The suspects include Murad Zubeida,
Halili’s former brother-in-law, who was arrested on Thursday at Ben-Gurion
Airport after returning from a trip to Romania. Police believe the killing
followed a long-running feud between Halili and her ex-husband’s family.
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