Lod protesters call for housing dispute to be resolved

Demonstrators vow to remain in tents at city hall; municipality says solutions have been offered for illegal residences in Arab neighborhoods.

Lod protest 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Lod protest 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Lod’s new city hall had a festive if a bit somber atmosphere on Thursday, as about two dozen protesters sat outside three tents set up as part of a protest against recent home demolitions in the city.
The complex had homemade signs set up reading, among other things, “Abu Eid Refugee Camp,” “the ongoing Nakba [the Arabic term for “catastrophe” used to describe Israel’s victory, and the Arab countries’ defeat, in 1948],” and “Tahrir Square,” the latter being a reference to the city of tents set up by the tens of thousands of protesters in Cairo’s central square who brought down President Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of demonstrations.
The protesters, around half of whom appeared to be children, looked no worse for wear on Thursday afternoon, even though activists said at least 30 of them had spent the night in the tents and on the front lawn the night before.
The tents were set up Wednesday following a new round of protests over home demolitions in Lod. In December, seven homes that housed around 70 members of the Abu Eid family were demolished by the Israel Lands Authority, following years of court battles.
Activists and residents said that since then, no viable solution has been found for the family, and recently, foundations were laid by the family to place a caravan. On Wednesday, ILA officials escorted by police took apart the concrete surface. During an ensuing skirmish, three family members were lightly wounded and a few family members were arrested, including minors, according to witnesses.
Later that day, residents and activists set up a protest tent at Lod City Hall, and during clashes with police, five people were arrested, but the tents stayed.
Police said Thursday that “on Wednesday, while trying to clear an illegal protest at Lod City Hall, people began interfering with the police work, and began disturbing the peace. At this point, five people were taken into custody for questioning.”
Police added that they “operate according to the law, and if people say there was unusual force used, they should issue a complaint to the police internal affairs division.”
Outside the city hall on Thursday, 45-year-old Lod resident Louie Abu Eid, said he and the other protesters “plan to stay here as long as it takes until we are given a solution.”
Abu Eid said the solution should be to supply a house for each family whose house was demolished in the Helen Keller street complex.
When asked if he would agree to pay municipal taxes if he was given a home with legal status, he said “if it’s arranged well, with sewage infrastructure, we are ready to pay. But why should we pay when we aren’t seen as legal? Until now, all we‘ve received is lies.”
Lod municipality spokesman Yoram Ben-Arush’s office sits on the second floor of the new city hall building, directly overlooking the tent protest. On Thursday, Ben-Arush told The Jerusalem Post, “It’s not a nice thing to see. I’ll be honest, I got here this morning and just looked out the window for five minutes wondering, ‘How did we get to a situation like this?’” Ben-Arush said the people holding the protest were not from the families whose homes were destroyed, and characterized them as “people from extremist organizations in Tel Aviv or elsewhere who have come down here to inflame the situation,” but added that the city had no plans to remove them by force. He also stipulated that the demolitions are carried out solely by the ILA and are not the responsibility of the city.
Ben-Arush said that on city hall chief Meir Nitzan’s first day in office in early February, he went to meet with the Abu Eid family and told them that it would take some time, but that he would reach a solution to their problem. Ben-Arush wouldn’t go into the details of the plan, but said that part of it was an agreement that illegal construction would stop for the time being, a deal he said the Abu Eid family has violated.
He also touted a plan he said Nitzan has put forward to make 700 houses in the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Pardes Snir retroactively legal, a plan he said will require the cooperation of the local Arab communities to carry out.
“The city wants to improve these neighborhoods, but they must pay taxes like everyone else.”
According to Ben-Arush, the city estimates that some 2,500 to 3,000 houses in Lod are illegal, out of a total of 20,000 houses in the city. This figure represents around half of the 6,000 Arab houses in the city.
Ben-Arush described the problem of illegal housing as one that directly affects the city’s coffers, in that well over 10 percent of the houses are not paying municipal taxes. This is in addition to an untold number of business, mainly in the Arab sector, who he said operate without building permits or paying taxes.
The predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Pardes Snir and the Rakevet, among others, reflect a haphazard and chaotic building culture that is partly due to a lack of municipal or state building initiatives, but also, according to many locals, a land-grab culture by Arab residents who build illegally creating facts on the ground. In these neighborhoods, particularly the Rakevet, slapdash cinder block structures and ramshackle corrugated steel buildings stand side-byside with multi-story villas on multi-dunam plots. In between lie large tracts of open land and illegal trash dumps, with sheep and horses lazily grazing in the middle of it all.
In conversations with local Jewish residents, the blame inevitably rests for the most part upon Arab newcomers, in particular the Palestinian collaborators from the West Bank who were relocated by the Shin Bet to Pardes Snir and other neighborhoods of Lod in recent years.
Whoever is to blame, the issue is something of a moot point at the moment for the members of the Abu Eid family whose homes have still not been rebuilt.
The complex doesn’t seem to have changed since the initial demolitions took place in December. Concrete and twisted iron rubble still stands meters high, and ruined mattresses and furniture still lie in the mud. The only new additions seem to be a sign at the entrance to the compound reading “Abu Eid Refugee Camp”, and three tents in which beds have been set up.
One of the tents even had a small structure ladder set up outside, upon which a satellite dish had been rigged, its cable running into the tent to a TV screen set up at the foot of a cot.
Outside of the rubble-strewn lot, “Faina,” who lives with her family in an adjacent four-story building she said is slated for demolition, said “they have no mercy, not even for women or children”, referring to the Israel Police.
She added that her family had taken in some of the Abu Eid family members who had lost their homes, and that in the meantime, they would wait and see whether or not their home would be demolished.