Lod dispute drives a wall between two communities

A four-meter high acoustic wall separates the neighborhood of Pardes Snir and Moshav Nir Tzvi.

lod dump AJ 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lod dump AJ 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When Naomi Shemer wrote the lines "the city that sits alone and at her heart - a wall" she was referring to Jerusalem of 1967, but her words, it turns out, may well be applicable to Lod 30 years later. A decision is expected to come through soon upholding the construction of a four-meter high acoustic wall separating the Lod neighborhood of Pardes Snir and the neighboring Moshav Nir Tzvi. Nir Tzvi's residents say that the wall is necessary to prevent a crime wave from crossing from Lod through the community's fields and into the middle-class moshav. But Pardes Snir residents, together with the non-profit organization Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights - have claimed that the moshav's demand for a wall is racist. The approximately 3,000 residents of Pardes Snir are Israeli Arabs, and Nir Tzvi is a Jewish community. The long trail of hearings and appeals began over five years ago, when Lod planners decided that the road leading to Pardes Snir, which sits on the edge of the Coastal Plain city, must be improved. But the normalization and improvement of the roadway required the use of neighboring Nir Tzvi's lands. Nir Tzvi residents opposed the plan for the road because it was going to be paved on lands occupied by the moshav. Nir Tzvi, however, like many agricultural communities throughout Israel, is not actually the owner of the lands surrounding the moshav. Instead, the moshav sits on land technically owned by the Israel Lands Authority and administered by the moshav. Nevertheless, the moshav council made the road's approval dependent on the establishment of an acoustic wall four meters high and 1.5 kilometers long. They also requested that public funds be used to pay for the wall's construction and maintenance. A July 21, 2002 government decision determined that the Transportation Ministry and the Construction and Housing Ministry would work together to build an acoustic wall that would be funded by both ministries. The Pardes Snir residents oppose the establishment of this wall and its funding by the government. On July 10, 2002, an appeal was submitted to the Supreme Court opposing the building, but the Supreme Court is waiting for the planning commission's final decisions prior to delivering an opinion. On May 4, 2006, an administrative appeal was submitted to the Tel Aviv District Court by the Pardes Snir residents and the Tel Aviv University's Legal Clinic. The appeal came after the National Building and Planning Commission upheld the decision of the Central District Planning Commission to build the wall. "The opposition to the plan is based on the claim that the basis for building the wall is the mentality of separation and pushing back of Arab citizens and that the physical barrier will cause feelings of oppression and discrimination against neighborhood residents and will create a "ghettoization" effect," said Ran Goldstein, a member of Bamakom. The Tel Aviv District Court accepted the appeal and instructed the commission's decision to be canceled and ordered the appeal to be reconsidered in a new hearing. According to Goldstein, the court found that "discrimination, racism, [and] oppression...on a national ethnic background are clearly part of the planning considerations and planning institutions need to weigh these like all other planning considerations including light and shade." Both sides have enlisted experts to reinforce their claims, with Prof. Arnon Sofer writing an opinion in favor of constructing the barrier and Dr. Hayim Ya'akobi writing an opinion opposing it. The two communities, it turns out, sit along the border between two different police administrative subdistricts - Lod, together with Ramle and Rehovot, is in the Coastal Plain Subdistrict and Nir Tzvi is part of the Ben-Gurion Airport Subdistrict. Coastal Plain police said that the crime levels around Nir Tzvi are not exceptional for the area, but thus said, the entire area is notorious for its high rate of break-ins and auto theft. Just this week, Nir Tzvi's on-line community newsletter warned residents that "The stealing 'lady' has returned to our streets. Don't let her enter your houses! Remove her immediately!" Similarly, it was noted that there was break-in on Friday around midnight, in which a burglar sawed through metal bars to enter through a window. In that case, the alarm sounded, scaring off the burglar - but not before the thief grabbed a bag lying nearby. More tellingly, the security bulletin also warned residents that "large groups of youths from the Abu-Kishk and Abu Rakika families" are entering the moshav in the afternoon, "annoying, stealing dogs and causing damage - kick them out!!" Moshav residents Ruthi and Yoram Shahar have been living on the moshav since 1971, and say that in recent years, Pardes Snir has encroached on the agricultural lands surrounding the moshav. With the growth, they said, has come crime. Drug addicts, says Ruthi, are drawn to the moshav en route to the Lod neighborhood which is considered to be one of the largest open-air drug markets in Israel. A few months ago, she says, someone broke into her house in the middle of the night and beat her husband brutally before fleeing. The break-in last Friday was also at her house, which is the closest residence to Pardes Snir. "If only it were different," says SHahar. "We don't like walls. The land is Israel's. If they needed a road, a garden, a preschool, I would go and demonstrate with them. I think they are entitled to every right of everyone else, but I need to be able to protect myself as well." But Aref Muhared, the director of the Pardes Snir Neighborhood Committee, said that racism, not security, was at the heart of the calls for the wall. "There shouldn't be a separation between Jews and Arabs. It is obvious that walls should not separate between citizens. Even if there are problems, it is not the solution." Muhared said that the fact that the moshav's justifications for building the wall had changed showed that they were simply excuses. "At first, they argued that it was for acoustic reasons. Then they argued that it is because of crime. It is absurd." Muhared argues that the claims that Lod residents are harassing the moshavniks are "like what Jews dealt with, with anti-Semites. They make these accusations because they have no other claims. If we prove it wrong, they'll come up with another claim." With unneighborly feeling running high on both sides, the two Coastal Plain communities are awaiting next week's decision with bated breath, but both know that the issue will not end here. If the wall is once again upheld, the Lod residents say that they will make sure that the Supreme Court hears their arguments. And, in any case, the two communities will continue - bad neighbors or good - to border each other.