In Lod, all red lines are being crossed; Netanyahu: "I won't allow Lod to turn into the Wild West."
By BEN HARTMAN
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.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.RELATED:Aharanovich vows to fight illegal arms, honor killingsFollowing two murders, Border Police sent to LodIt 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.This 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 week.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.AdvertisementAccording to 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 night.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 Bank.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.The latter 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.The “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.“They 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 1948.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 officers.”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.”Meanwhile on 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.