“We haven’t been going to school much over the last six weeks – our clothes and our schoolbooks were destroyed when our homes were demolished.”
Thus spoke the four young cousins, Nur, Kamal, Muhammed and Roiya, who came to Jerusalem on Friday with their families, neighbors and friends to protest the demolitions of their homes and demonstrate their solidarity with families evicted from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
Early one wet and windy morning in mid-December, bulldozers and security forces entered an Arab neighborhood in the north of Lod, in central Israel, and demolished seven homes belonging to the extended Abu Eid family. Some 70 people were left homeless – two thirds of them children. The elderly matriarch of the family described the brutality of the demolition, the wanton destruction, the security forces who yelled at her family members to go to hell; how the families are now living in tents, how neighbors try to help as much as they can with their limited means; and how, despite this experience, she still has faith. “I must be patient. God is great. In the end, things will be all right.”
Jumana, a neighbor, describes the trauma not only of the destruction, but the feelings of parents unable to protect their children, and the tremendous disruption to family life – the lack of privacy in the tents, the lack of washing facilities, and so forth.
“Look at 10-year-old Roiya– she is such a bright child. Now she can’t even do the most normal things. Even if she manages to get to school now and then – she can’t do her homework in these conditions.”
“We are helping these families rebuild their homes,” says Buthaina Dabit, SHATIL's Mixed Cities Project director. “We would like to believe that the rebuilt homes will not be demolished… We organized a protest by the mothers and children at the Knesset and their participation in a session of the Knesset Committee for the Rights of the Child on the repercussions of the trauma on the children. We are also working together with a number of organizations to draw up a policy paper proposing an all-round solution for this reoccurring problem of demolitions because the Arab population – all over Israel – for the most part cannot acquire building permits and therefore has no choice but to build illegally."
Members of the above-mentioned Knesset Committee have been invited to visit the Lod neighborhood; hopefully this will take place before their follow-up discussion scheduled in two months time. The residents themselves enjoy some emotional comfort from the waves of support and solidarity that SHATIL and other groups have helped to channel in their direction.
“When we bring the families to a protest like this in Sheikh Jarrah and they meet with other families in similar situations, and they see Arabs and Jews demonstrating together against this situation and looking for ways to prevent it in the future – this strengthens them and gives them hope,” said Dabit. This solidarity is also reflected in visits by organizations and groups to the protest tent erected in the neighborhood and where lectures, discussions and cultural activities take place weekly.
Bringing together planning, building and housing issues affecting various Arab communities – be they Bedouin in the south of Israel or in any of the mixed cities -- and developing a unified advocacy strategy is a high priority in SHATIL's shared society program. But for now, and in the current increasingly anti-democratic climate, the act of protest against the mere threat of demolition can have frightening consequences. Just last week, members of the Shaaban family of Dahmash (an unrecognized neighborhood on the Lod-Ramle border), who, with SHATIL and others’ support, have sought to prevent the threatened demolition of their home, were arrested following a search of their home – apparently without a warrant and on dubious pretexts. Those arrested included Farida, who has become an unofficial Dahmash spokesperson, and her young daughter featured in our May 2010 article.