Money and clout are always right

From Tel Aviv to Susya, the powerless are pawns of the powerful.

Poor palestinian 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Poor palestinian 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
At the junction of Mahal and Dayan streets in Tel Aviv's Kfar Shalem live 30 families who are about to lose their homes. Their immigrant parents and grandparents from Yemen were assigned to live there by the state in the late '40s, following the flight of the indigenous Palestinian Arab population. There's no dispute over these facts. The issue that is in dispute, the $64,000 question that will seal the inhabitants' fate, is who owns the land. The court recently ruled that the land is privately owned by a certain individual who had bought it. But even the court is not sure. On Sunday morning the eviction order was delayed, as substantial evidence was presented suggesting that the alleged private owner has a claim to less than one quarter of the land. It is also clear that Amidar exercised ownership by charging rent from the inhabitants. The spokeswoman for the Israel Lands Administration also issued a statement implicating it in the ownership of the land. The solution to the puzzle is not hard to guess. Various plots of land were sold in not-quite-legal ways to various agents, leading to a situation where parts of the land have more than one owner. ALL THAT is of no concern to the inhabitants. Their families lived there for 60 years, during which time no one claimed that their stay was illegal. They planted gardens and built homes. They paid rents and taxes for the land to the authorities. And they are going to be thrown out into the street with no compensation whatsoever. The powers that be want to clear as much land as cheaply as possible for entrepreneurs. This is considered "public good." The people of Kfar Shalem do not count as part of the public. About a month ago another home was at risk of being demolished: the home of a member of the Daka family from Jaffa. Here there is no dispute. The person living on the land owns it. But his home was to be demolished because he built an unlicensed extension. This might have been a justified cause for demolition if the municipality had drafted a planning No one can build anything. The municipality wants the residents out quickly and cheaply. The landowner does not mind leaving, but he wants decent remuneration for his land. Demolition orders are the municipality's way of ensuring that people leave quickly and cheaply, and give way to luxury apartment buildings. FURTHER SOUTH, the Beduin communities of Atir and Um Al Khiran were ordered off their lands in the Negev back in 1956 for the purpose of creating new kibbutzim. The Beduin were instructed to move to lands near the then Jordanian border, and they complied. Two years ago the state decided that it wanted to repossess the land. The Beduin are to move to the village of Hura. On June 24 officials came, accepted the traditional Beduin hospitality, and promised to return the following day with contracts settling the issue of compensation and resettlement. The next day they came alright; they came with bulldozers. The property of the 25 local families was taken into storage, the houses were demolished, and the people were left penniless and homeless. All means are fair for clearing the way to the creation of isolated Jewish farms. A few miles from there, across the Green Line, there's the Palestinian village of Susya. Since the early 80s, when the Jewish settlers came, Palestinians have been repeatedly evicted, first from the original site of Susya and later from the adjacent location called Rujum. Today they live in caves and tents on their agricultural land, which is their only source of livelihood. AGAIN, THE ownership of the land by the Palestinians is not legally contested. But as the nearby settlements expand, each new outpost carries with it a thick ring of security areas closed to Palestinians. The Palestinians gradually lose access to their lands. They can no longer reach their main well, and have a serious water problem. Whereas the evicted settlers of Gush Katif were resettled and compensated (whether this compensation was just and effectively implemented is indeed an issue worth pursuing), the Susya Palestinians will never receive any compensation whatsoever. According to the still applicable Turkish law, if Palestinians don't work the land (which they can't access), and settlers who do have access take over, the settlers can gain ownership. The court recently ruled that even though Palestinians own the land, and even though the Civil Administration systematically refuses to allow any construction, unlicensed construction is doomed to demolition. "Unlicensed construction" here stands for tents, caves dug into the rocks, stone ovens and toilet structures. WHAT THESE examples have in common is the state's dispossession of people, who are legally acknowledged as property owners, or who have been settled on some property by the state itself. The second common point is that in all these cases, socially marginalized communities with little resources and no alternatives lose their property without any compensation whatsoever. They lose it for the benefit of others: wealthier others, up-and-comers, people with clout. The legal issues are beside the point. The state rewrites the law for the benefit of the wealthier. Money and clout are always right. The evicted Atir Beduin are going to set up a refugee camp near the Knesset. There they will meet African refugees, dumped by authorities, about to be deported indiscriminately, with no genuine investigation as to which of them may be in mortal danger if deported, and with no genuine investigation as to which of them have right to asylum (according to the international treaty that Israel not only signed, but helped draft). Not far from these two groups of refugees there's the camp of Jewish families who lost their homes. I can't tell you their story, because I simply can't keep up with everything that belongs to this surge of new homeless people, and because the media doesn't consider this a selling issue. THE DAKA family home in Jaffa was not demolished. A bunch of activists gathered there, and the authorities backed off. But another demolition did take place very recently in nearby Ajami, when local activists were surprised and unprepared. The Kfar Shalem families have not been evicted yet, either. Activists prepared to passively resist the eviction on Saturday night, and the next day the court issued a stay. If you care, join and support any of these groups. Look them up on the Internet, and you'll find the contacts you need. Come to the refugee camp of the Beduin, or of the poor local families in Jerusalem. Join the resistance to evictions and demolitions in Susya, Jaffa or Kfar Shalem. Do it now. It can't wait. By the time you read this, the Kfar Shalem people may have already become homeless. Who knows, next week you may discover that you too are among the dispossessed. The author is a lecturer at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.