May 4th 2010
Within weeks, the two children in this photograph will be made homeless. In the early hours of the morning, bulldozers will turn their home into rubble. If they’re lucky, and manage to get their belongings out in time, they’ll still have their computer. This isn’t Gaza, this isn’t the West Bank. It isn’t even East Jerusalem. This traumatic event will take place well within the Green Line – just a few minutes ride form ultra-modern Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion International Airport. This is Dahmash, an unrecognized Arab neighborhood on the Ramle-Lod seam.
Like an unwanted orphan, Dahmash has been refused the patronage of both Lod and Ramle Municipalities. It therefore lacks all basic infrastructure and normal municipal services. Yet, it is home to some 700 residents who actually own their property. The lands, however, are designated by the state as ‘agricultural’, thus pre-empting the possibility of applying for residential building permits. So, as families grow, they are forced to build without permission, if they want to stay in their neighborhood, and do not want to suffer the indignities of overcrowded homes. That is the offence committed by Farida S. and her husband, and that is why they and their children – and another 12 families – will be homeless unless last minute intervention from the state’s highest authorities averts this evil decree. “I wrote to the Prime Minister,” says Farida, “but I was told it’s not within his authority”.
Shatil Mixed Cities project director, architect Buthaina Dabit has been working tirelessly with the Dahmash neighborhood committee and Lod Popular Committee to wage a public campaign in protest of the imminent and inhumane demolitions – and the lack of state planning that is ultimately responsible for the demolitions. Almost daily, groups of women and their children demonstrate on the corners of the only access road to Dahmash (also due for demolition), raising the awareness of drivers on the highway to their plight. An ongoing vigil and protest tent has been erected in Dahmash adjacent to one of the threatened buildings inhabited by four families. Each day, the residents are visited by representatives of NGO’s, local and international journalists, MKs – mainly Arab MKs that is, and other Arab dignitaries, such as from the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee. Interestingly, the tent has become a forum for still broader consciousness-raising. Yesterday, for example, a film screening, followed by a discussion, was held on the issue of the status of women in Islam.
In the past, with the support of Shatil’s Mixed Cities project, the residents of Dahmash took the initiative to submit plans to the state’s planning authorities. Their neighborhood committee, chaired by Mixed Cities former Lod Field Coordinator and resident of Dahmash, Arafat Ismail, worked together with urban planners from AC-AP (the Arab Center for Alternative Planning) to create a united vision for the future of the neighborhood, and embarked on the arduous and long-drawn out process of submitting the plans to the state authorities – some of which have since done their level best to avoid dealing with the subject. Nevertheless, until recently, the fact that the residents were engaged in this process, protected them from threatened demolitions. A few weeks ago, however the Tel Aviv Peace Court ruled that as of May 17th 2010, the demolition orders will no longer be frozen. So, despite the fact that the residents of Dahmash are trying to pursue, through the appropriate channels, a planning process which will settle the status of their neighborhood once and for all, and will enable families to apply retroactively and in the future for building permits – 13 families in the meantime will unnecessarily be made homeless. According to the court, they can always build again once they get permission. These callous words offer no comfort to Farida S. She and her husband have already put their life’s savings into their dream home.
A small ray of hope emerged yesterday, when another Tel Aviv court hearing resulted in the acquiescence of the Central Regional Planning Committee to discuss, in June, the plans submitted by the Dahmash residents. This decision was greeted with relief by the residents in the court-room and those outside who had rallied there with other Arabs and Jews in support. However, it will not necessarily stave off the imminent demolitions faced by the thirteen Dahmash families.