The 600 residents of the unrecognized neighborhood of Dahmash on the Lod-Ramle seam, and over 1000 other Israelis – Arabs and Jews who have marched with the Israeli Arab residents and gathered in dignified daily protest over the past weeks – waited with baited breath on July 14th for Judge Noga Ohad of the Petach Tikvah District Court to announce her decision: to permit the immediate demolition of 13 Dahmash homes – or not.
Dahmash is not included in state plans and thus lacks basic infrastructure and municipal services. While owned by the residents, the land is designated for the most part by the state as agricultural, so the residents (post-1948 internal refugee families) cannot obtain permission to legally build or expand their homes. With Shatil’s support they have long waged a campaign to have their neighborhood recognized, and have submitted their own alternative plans to the authorities
“We’ve poured our soul into Dahmash,” said Buthaina Dabit, Director of Shatil’s Mixed Cities Project. “The positive atmosphere, the connections made, the joint action have all been incredible. This is a real model of ‘think global, act local’, because a positive response by the state to the Dahmash struggle will mean there is hope yet for the state’s relationship with its Arab citizens around the issues of land, planning and building.”
The District Planning Committee’s cavalier rejection of the residents’ planning proposal earlier this month signaled a green light for the planning authorities’ bulldozers to demolish the homes. Only the court appeal could avert this man-made, inhumane disaster.
And it did. But only until October 11th, the date set by Judge Ohad for the next hearing. Until then, Shatil’s Mixed Cities Project Director Buthaina Dabit, Dahmash Neighborhood Committee head Arafat Ismail, and Ibrahim Abu Saluk, leader of the Lod Samech Het Neighborhood Committee (both of whom honed their community organizing and leadership skills through the Shatil Project) will ensure that the tremendous momentum of solidarity will keep growing. They have inspired the residents of Dahmash to maintain their struggle, networking with MKs, with the Lod, Ramle and Jaffa Popular Committees, the Sheikh Jarrah (East Jerusalem) protest groups and artists, musicians, and NGOs, galvanizing them into joint action, such as the widely covered mass march through Ramle on July 13th; the Dahmash protest tent activities; and the five-day summer camp for the children of Dahmash, organized by Hutwa, with support from Shatil, and operated by thirty volunteers from all over Israel.
A hallmark process engineered largely by Dabit has been the involvement of Dahmash women as a leading force in the struggle. Literally on the front-line – the adjacent highway — for weeks on end, these women carry banners and speak to the press about the discriminatory policies that have left the neighborhood out of the state planning system, forcing residents to build without permits on their own land.
What is next on the Dahmash rollercoaster? This week, the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee will convene an urgent discussion on Dahmash. The ball is in Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s court to bring this long struggle to a positive conclusion: the recognition of Dahmash, which would mean retroactive building authorization and the provision of normal municipal infrastructure and services as befits a neighborhood in 21st century Israel.