“Arabs have no security here” says Omar Azbarka, president of an Arab youth organisation in Lod’s Sapir college, in an area totally segregated from the Jewish population. Gabi, a resident of Lod who works for the Arab citizens’ board and for the Arab Tajamoa party in the Knesset, feels his family are not safe living in Lod.
Crime has been allowed to develop in Arab areas without police investigations. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Lod last week claiming he wanted to remove all the weapons from gangs here but such statements carry little promise of action. Israeli authorities have been happy to allow Arab communities to deteriorate on the margins.
As part of a containment policy, Arabs are denied permits to build on their own land and homes are routinely demolished should the police decide they are illegal. Al-Mahata was a mainly Bedouin suburb in Lod until the state claimed the houses were old and must be torn down. This neighbourhood was then developed into new apartments and allocated to Jews. The Bedouin inhabitants were given a little money and relocated to the dilapidated area of Nevej Shalom. The local government has surrounded their properties with boulders to ensure they cannot expand and build more homes.
Transferring Arabs out of their homes and away from the Jewish areas is part of the authorities’ Judaisation project, for which the Arab minority is an obstacle. The state has introduced incentives for Jews to migrate to Lod with new low-cost housing, as the presence of Arab communities has kept many away. A three metre high separation wall was built to keep the Arab inhabitants of Shanir, another Arab ghetto, segregated from an adjacent Jewish town. Organisations like the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency, which seek to appropriate and develop land in Israel for the benefit of Jews alone, take an official role in planning and development in Israel. Their position amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination.
The effects of their policies can be seen in Al Sikkeh, an Arab suburb, one of the worst-maintained ghettos in Lod. Al Sikkeh is denied the most basic municipal services including rubbish collection, electricity and street lights. Sewage flows openly through the streets here.
Nearby Jewish neighbourhoods are new and comfortable: the roads lined with trees, the inhabitants provided with good schools and community centres. Arabs are not permitted by the municipality to buy apartments in these areas. When Gabi’s brother attempted to move to one of these neighbourhoods, he was forced to go to a court in Jerusalem. After winning the case for his right to live there, his Jewish neighbours threw rocks at his house. Gabi feels “ethnic discrimination underlines Arab suffering” through state policies towards minorities.
Maha El Nakib Shaqledy works for an Arab party in the Knesset and participates in activism in Lod. She claims business people and shop owners cannot protest during times of tension between Israel and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, such as the assault on the Gaza Strip in 2009, for fear of losing Jewish customers. Jews rarely employ Arabs and it is difficult for Arabs to buy properties to run businesses from, reducing their economic opportunities. Maha claims the municipality actively oppresses the Arabs through its attempts to crush them with social and economic methods. The state moved the financial centre of Lod away from an Arab area, leaving it with virtually no services.
Buthaina works for Shatil, an advocacy group for minority rights. “Lod is a microcosm of the Arab position in Israel”, she says. Officially, Israeli Arabs have full citizenship though in practice they experience discrimination at both state and society level. When Arabs protest to the municipality, they are met with the assertion that since the majority of Arab houses are seen as illegal, “they are not entitled to municipal services”. The Arab parties in the Knesset try to help the situation for Arabs in Lod and elsewhere by raising awareness but ultimately, Buthaina claims, they are powerless in “a fascistic Knesset”.
At the very top, laws are handed down that keep communities like Lod’s on their knees. It must seem bitterly ironic to Arab Israelis that while they are being asked to display their loyalty to the state, it is forcing them into the gutter.