Palestinians living in Lod, Israel fear they are being pushed out

·6-min read

Many Palestinians in Israel live in the mixed cities of Jaffa, Acre, Ramla, Lod, Haifa where Jews and Arabs coexist. Many of them protested during airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, leading to clashes with Jewish extremists. The city of Lod has experienced an unprecedented outbreak of violence, jeopardising the coexistence between Arab and Jewish communities in the town. These events revealed a build-up of resentment towards the Israeli state, which is accused of working to progressively oust Arabs from the city to the benefit of "Jewish colonisers".

There has been an escalation of violence in recent weeks in Lod, a town near Tel Aviv that is home to 80,000 residents, a third of them Israeli Palestinians. Jewish extremists have attacked protesting Arabs, synagogues have been burned and shops have been pillaged. On May 11, a Palestinian protester was shot and killed. On May 12, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency. On May 17, a Jewish resident died after being hit in the head with a brick.

This video shows a group of Jewish extremists gathering in Lod. One of them carries a gun hanging from a shoulder strap.

This video shows clashes between Palestinians and security forces in the city of Lod.

'We think of these people as colonisers'

Khaled Zabareqa is a Palestinian lawyer from Lod.

We don’t have any problems with Jewish people who aren’t ultra-nationalists. We’ve been living together in harmony for decades.

However, there have been tensions growing in town for the past few years, ever since a group of new “colonists” arrived – from an ultranationalist group called "Garin Torani". They first came to our city in 2005 after then-prime minister Ariel Sharon decided to remove them from the Gaza strip and the West Bank where they had been living in Jewish settlements [Editor’s note: in 2005, there were about 1,200 families from this group living in Lod].

With support from the Israeli government and local authorities, they built hundreds of new homes in Arab neighborhoods. They also built schools, including a pre-military academy.

Within the Arab community, we think of these people as colonisers who came to make the town more Jewish – to change the demographic make-up so there will be more and more Jews and fewer and fewer Arabs.

A large part of the responsibility for this situation falls to the mayor of Lod, Yair Revivo, who is an activist with Likud [Editor’s note: a rightwing party] and acted as a campaign manager for Benjamin Netanyahu. He openly supported the arrival of the religious Jews in Lod and has openly shown contempt for Arabs.

Yair Revivo has said on several occasions that Arab culture is intrinsically violent. In 2015, he told the Makor Rishon newspaper that the arrival of religious Jews had “saved” Lod, which was at risk of becoming an Arab town.

Palestinians in Lod have become even angrier at the Garin Torani as there has been a sharp increase in tension and clashes between Jewish extremists and Palestinians. Khaled Zabareqa continues:

Amidst the growing tension of the past few weeks, these groups have been patrolling Arab neighbourhoods, sometimes armed, which we see as a provocation. On Sunday, May 16, they came to the Grand Mosque. That made me furious, I asked them to leave immediately. We filmed the scene and it was shared widely on social media.

This video shows an altercation between lawyer Khaled Zabareqa and members of Garin Torani, which held a gathering in front of the Grand Mosque in Lod.

Members of Garin Torani, who self-describe as a group of "zionist idealists," claim that they aren’t trying to make the city more Jewish but, instead, say that they are there to participate in its development. However, according to the Israeli press, they carried out violent attacks on Palestinian protesters during the recent demonstrations. Garin Torani did not respond to our request for comment.

Palestinians carry out general strike in Lod

Israeli Arabs in the city of Lod, as well as in other mixed cities, carried out a general strike on May 18 to show their support for the residents of the Cheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, who have been threatened with eviction – which would benefit the Orthodox Jews who want to move into the neighbourhood. When Israeli police violently repressed the protests, the powder keg exploded, so to speak, and led to an escalation in violence between Israel and Hamas on May 10.

Khaled Zabareqa explains.

Huge numbers of Palestinians participated in the general strike because we are subject to the same policies of occupation and expropriation as the Palestinians living in Cheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. The only difference is that the Israeli government has tried to evict those residents from their homes in a brutal manner, while, in our case, they are trying to push us out of the city in a gentler manner. What we are experiencing is a silent expropriation.

These videos show closed shops in a Palestinian neighbourhood on May 18.

After their arrival in the city of Lod, the members of Garin Torani were given land to build houses in largely Palestinian neighbourhoods like Ramat Elyashiv and Ahuzat Nof Neria. What has exacerbated the sense of injustice is that, over the past few years, Israeli authorities have carried out several drives to destroy homes belonging to Palestinians, claiming that they didn’t have proper construction permits.

More recently, on February 24, Israel’s Supreme Court Plus froze a decision to evict several dozen Palestinian families from their homes in Lod. Most of these families were living in homes that belonged to Palestinians who were forced to abandon them in 1948, when the state of Israel was created and Arabs were forced out of these lands en masse.

Back in 1948, the Israeli government seized the homes of Palestinians who had been displaced to Gaza, the West Bank and neighbouring Arab countries. Amidar, a public company, ended up renting most of these homes to Palestinians who stayed after 1948 and became Israeli citizens. However, Palestinian families are often evicted from these home for failing to respect their rental contracts, which ban, for instance, the tenant from doing any work on the house.

Sami Abdulhamid, a Palestinian journalist who lives in the town of Jaffa, says that this is a problem in all mixed cities in Israel:

Since late April, there have been protests marked by violent clashes in the city of Jaffa because the Israeli authorities decided to evict dozens of Palestinian families from the Al-Ajami neighbourhood for the benefit of Jewish investors. This is the umpteenth time that Arab families have been evicted. Palestinian families refer to this as the "silent nakba" [Editor’s note: Palestinians use the term "nakba", which means "catastrophe" in Arabic, to refer to the forced exodus of 1948].

People protest the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the mixed city of Jaffa.

There has also been an escalation of violence in the mixed neighbourhoods in Jerusalem. On May 17, a Jewish extremist shot at residents of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Shuafat. A young Palestinian was injured and received several fractures.

Since May 10, at least 219 people, including 63 children, were killed in Israeli air raids on the Gaza Strip, according to the local Ministry of Health. Rockets fired from Gaza into Israel killed at least 12 people.

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