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Demolishing Arab women's homes is the easy way out

What are Arab citizens expected to do when the city only builds for Jews, and why do single mothers almost always pay the price?

(Translated from Hebrew by Eppie Bat Ilan)

Hannah al-Naqib (right) as Israeli authorities demolish her home in Lod, February 10, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hannah al-Naqib (right) as Israeli authorities demolish her home in Lod, February 10, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

On the surface, it was just another illegal dwelling demolished in the city of Lyd (“Lod” in Hebrew). The image of a violence, crime-ridden city combined with that of too many law-breaking Arabs is particularly blinding for both the media and social activists. After all, we are simply talking about a municipality attempting to get its zoning matters straight, that’s all. But let me invite you to take a closer look at what is actually taking place in Lyd, where for the past 10 years, investment and high-momentum construction have been named national-level goals by one government decision after another.

There has been no approved zoning plan for decades. Arabs cannot build on their own lands, and plans that are meant to authorize legal construction in the Arab neighborhoods are stuck in bureaucratic pipelines – at least according to the plan for the improvement of the Lyd municipality that was passed by Netanyahu’s government. Meanwhile, the municipality collects its arnona tax, and homeowners are levied enormous fines in the process of procuring permits, all while leaving roads unpaved and offering no basic services, as well as continuing to threaten residents home demolitions whenever there is a dispute between the mayor and the head of the opposition.

Not a single housing project has been built for Arabs, not even one meant for the general population where Arabs would also be permitted to purchase homes. None. On the other hand, thousands of new housing units have been built at lightning speed right across from the Arab neighborhoods for the latest gari’n of religious settlers (small communities of religious Jews who move, usually from the occupied territories, into cities with mixed Arab and Jewish population) or other religious groups. Furthermore, the plan to encourage more privileged families to settle in Lyd has been making much progress, with families of army and police veterans moving into the city. A young Arab couple cannot even go near the sales offices of these projects, much less dream of the huge subsidies and grants that are offered to the city’s new residents who have come to “strengthen” Lyd.

Demolishing Hannah al-Naqib’s home in Lod, February 10, 2015. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Demolishing Hannah al-Naqib’s home in Lod, February 10, 2015. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Naturally, nothing justifies law breaking or illegal construction. We get that. Until an Arab family is able to find an apartment on the moon, it is obliged to act creatively and legally. But if we look a little closer to see whose homes are destroyed time and time again, we will find that even when it comes to the worst attacks on the security of Arab citizens, there is an added layer of discrimination against women, and especially impoverished women.

For example, the recent victim of demolition bulldozers is a single mother of four who built a home on her father’s land with money she received from neighbors, brothers and donors. This was a small, modest home, built near a street full of the family’s pretty houses. A home that never interfered with a single plan, road or person. Many homes in the vicinity were built years before this one, and they too await building permits that have been stuck in one or another legal procedure.

Only that Hana’a, the mother, could not afford to pay a famous lawyer or incur the heavy fines that must be paid until the building plan is approved. She raised only NIS 3,000 for a lawyer who vanished after the first court session. One of the policemen at the demolition told her: “What can be done? This is what happens when your lawyer is an ass.”

Once again the municipality is teaching the Arabs a lesson at the expense of a downtrodden, impoverished woman. No one would dare do the same thing to a businessman from an established family. But this woman has no backing; activists and neighbors will not organize any protests on her behalf.

I recall another demolition in January 2012 when a home with a similar story was demolished. This was the home of Aisha Al-Fakir, a single mother of five who lived in a modest house. She wanted to add a room, and paid for it dearly – the entire house was demolished. Of all the homes around, hers was the quickest to be razed. Two years earlier, on a stormy day in December, five homes belonging to the Abu-Eid were destroyed. Thirty children were left homeless, a widow without citizenship raising two orphans, a sanitary worker, a mother of five whose husband was ill, another sanitary worker whose husband abandoned her with four children and more. Needless to say, the families were torn apart and broken. The two couples who were still functioning were forced to move away – one to the north and the other to a dismal housing complex.

The aftermath of a home demolition in Lod, Israel, September 2, 2011. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The aftermath of a home demolition in Lod, Israel, September 2, 2011. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

I do not see any significant difference between the persecution of these destitute women by the long arm of the law and the battle of women such as Rebecca and Rachel for public housing, or that of Sarah who squatted in an empty home meant for public house. The difference is that Hana’a, the Arab woman from Lyd, is unlikely to be invited to an interview on the morning talk shows, and no one will hear her story.

Samah Salaime Egbariya is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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      • Tzvika

        Oh those ungrateful Arab citizens. They just don’t like the Jews. For no reason at all. It’s just the way those people are. Because, as this article demonstrates, the Jews are completely fair to them and don’t discriminate against them at all and Israel is in no way shape or form an apartheid state. Sigh. What can do. The whole world is against us.

        Reply to Comment
    1. Bryan

      Ginger Eis will be along here in a moment to reassure us that before the law Arabs and Jews are entirely equal in a land in which milk and honey constantly flows.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben Zakkai

        And then PedroX will follow up by informing us that no Arabs have been allowed to build homes in Crete, Nebraska, which proves that Israel is no worse than America, which means that Israel is O-KAY.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Pedro X

      Can you ever trust the what passess for journalism in 972mag? 972mag:

      “Not a single housing project has been built for Arabs, not even one meant for the general population where Arabs would also be permitted to purchase homes. None

      Now consider some of these projects:

      Ayalim project where 130 container housing units have been built primarily for student housing. Arabs reside in the project making up about 10% of the population.

      Neve Yerek neighborhood for Arabs from the Rakevet neighborhood. 300 Units were built for the Arab population.

      Arab families were relocated from the Rakevet neighborhood to Neve-Shalom. 75 families were relocated from 29 structures. Average compensation paid to the homeowners was $980,000.00 NIS per building. Many other families were offered compensation to leave their homes in Rakevet and relocate to Neve-Shalom but refused to move. The Neve-Shalom project was to house 200 Arab families at the cost of $110,000,000 NIS. The size of the apartments depended upon the size of the Arab family. The larger the family, the larger the unit. For instance a family of 8 persons or more qualified for 130 meter space unit. In addition the units were built with the ability to be expanded.

      The neighborhood of Varda had 80 units built for Arabs from Rakevet but only 8 families moved.

      The “Ayalim” organization has been organizing the “City without Violence” project helping to clean up and revitalize the Rakevet neighborhood, painting homes, installing lighting, playgrounds, benches, and soccer fields. They have removed tons of scrap and waste and rebuilding a community center.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        You’re blowing a lot of smoke here Pedro X. To my mind you’re an inveterate whitewasher. Nothing of this refutes or is even relevant to a single thing Egbariya writes about the mysterious, routine process whereby Arab plans get stuck forever in bureaucratic pipelines while Jewish plans fly through like lightning. And as a consequence Arabs are forced to build without permits. There is rank discrimination and you are whitewashing it.

        Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        You are right Pedro to insist that the statement “not a single housing project has been built for Arabs” is incorrect, and you have managed to quote a very small number of exceptions to the rule that social provision of housing in Israel is very limited especially for Arabs but even for Jews, and hence the extortionate cost of housing in Israel. You also imply a possible reason – that Arabs are reluctant to move from their often illegal accomodation (either built or extended without permits which are exceptionally difficult for non-Jews to obtain) into high quality government designed units. Now there must surely be a rational reason for this? Let me offer some suggestions:

        (1) Accommodation very cramped. You correctly cite 130 square meters per family of more than 8. This represents one of the highest densities in the world. International comparisons (square meters per person) are Hong Kong 15, China 20, Russia 22, Spain 35, Greece 45, USA 77 (http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/how-big-is-a-house)
        (2) The planners totally failed to consult the proposed residents regarding their social needs. The Arab Bedouin proposed for rehousing at Neve-Shalom had two key cultural requirements that were ignored (A) the traditional sheig el-mik’ad, a tent-like structure where male guests could be received, and which represented an interface between public space (the street) and private space (the home) (B) no arrangements were made to obscure the women (in the garden or on external staircases) from public view. (Social housing also fails to meet the traditional needs of Israel’s Mizrachi Jews with respect to courtyard areas and segregated communal areas).
        (3) Poor quality construction and infrastructure. Street paving incomplete and thus pools of rain created environmental hazards. Cracks evident in walls soon after completion, allowing rain-water seepage and dampness. Promised municipal services not provided. (see http://arenaofspeculation.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Makan_Vol1.pdf pages 25-39 Haim Yacobi)

        Reply to Comment
    3. Brian

      Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer specializing in Jerusalem land claims, dismantles the pleasant fairy tales told about housing in Jerusalem by Elie Wiesel, that awkward whitewasher of Jewish behavior in modern Israel (Peter Beinart writes about this today in Haaretz).

      Wiesel had claimed that “contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city.”



      “A review of the facts is in order. 93 percent of Israel – including most of West Jerusalem and the 35 percent of privately-owned land in East Jerusalem expropriated by Israel since 1967 – is categorized by Israel as “State Land.” Only Israeli citizens and those entitled to immigrate under the Law of Return may acquire properties on this land. Palestinians of East Jerusalem, with rare exception, are in neither of these categories. So while Wiesel may purchase a home in anywhere in East or West Jerusalem, a Palestinian cannot. Since 1967, Israel has built more than 50,000 dwellings for Israelis in East Jerusalem, but has built fewer than 600 for Palestinians (the last was built 35 years ago). And from 1967 until today, as East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population increased from 70,000 to 280,000, Israel has issued only 4,000 permits for private Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem. Barred from building legally, the Palestinians built without permits – leaving them subject to Israeli demolition of their “illegal” homes. Today extreme settler groups have launched a campaign to evict Palestinian families – refugees of Israel’s War of Independence – from densely-populated Palestinian neighborhoods in the heart of East Jerusalem. They are doing so based on the “right” of Jews to recover properties lost in the 1948 war. But under Israeli law Palestinians have no such right. So while Israel insists that Palestinians renounce any “right of return” – something understood as necessary for the two-state solution – it is implementing a Jewish right of return to Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and turning 1948 refugees into 2010 refugees.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Seidemann’s Terrestrial Jerusalem is another foreign government-funded far left wing political advocacy vehicle for attacking Israel.

        Wiesel is correct. Seidemann is wrong. The 1960 Israel land law prevents discrimination in land sales and leasing of property. That law has been upheld and applied by Israeli courts.

        Camera and other studies have repeated refuted similar claims that Arabs have been unable to build. April 2, 1998 news release:

        “Citing pervasive misinformation in the media as well as in US policymaking circles about Arab building in Jerusalem, CAMERA today released a study documenting extensive housing construction in Arab neighborhoods of the city. Authored by former Jerusalem city planner Israel Kimhi, Arab Building in Jerusalem: 1967-1997 finds that Arab home construction has actually outpaced Jewish building since Israel unified the city in 1967. Aerial photographs comparing neighborhoods in 1968 and 1995 dramatically underscore the statistical evidence.

        “The reality that Jewish building has actually proceeded more slowly than Arab construction is contrary to the near universal claims of reporters,”

        “In this case,” he said, “the story line claims Israel has seized Arab land, built Jewish neighborhoods on it and prevented Arabs from constructing their own residences. Wherever Arabs attempt to build, Israeli authorities demolish the structures.” None of this, Safian declared, is true.

        He said that while Israel has, indeed, built numerous Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem since 1967, Arab residents have been more effective in their campaign to create facts on the ground. The number of flats in the Arab sector has grown by 122%, while the number for the Jewish population has grown by just 113.5%.

        Safian also challenged the claim that Arabs are not awarded enough building permits. He pointed out that the Arab sector has actually received permits for more square meters of residential construction than a demographically similar group—in terms of family size and total proportion of the city’s population—the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.”

        Lawyer Justus Reid Weiner, a scholar-in-residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs who who wrote a report which focused on illegal building in Jerusalem explains why it is such a popular phenomena among Arab residents.

        “The Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an intentional campaign to subsidize and encourage massive illegal construction in the Arab sector [of Jerusalem], seeing this as part of their ‘demographic war’ against Israel.” He notes that the “frantic pace of illegal construction continues despite the fact that the city has authorized more than 36,000 permits for new housing units in the Arab sector, more than enough to meet the needs of Arab residents through legal construction until 2020. ”

        Camera in 2013 reported that the percentage of building permit requests granted in East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem were similar. The fact is that Israelis apply for more permits and receive more permits for this reason alone. On a square meter basis building permit applications in East Jerusalem are approved for more meters than in West Jerusalem.

        Reply to Comment