By Mohammed Watad
The drive to empty the state of Israel of its non-Jewish population began in the run-up to the declaration of independence in May 1948. The Palestinians call that “the Nakba”, the Catastrophe, and with good cause. Since 1948, the Israelis have demolished almost 22,000 homes belonging to Palestinians in cities across the state, namely Jaffa, Lod and Ramla. House demolitions in Jerusalem are part of this process. Ten thousand more have been sold to wealthy Jews and so, despite having a Palestinian population of around 75,000 in these three cities, cultural signs of the Arab presence are being eroded.
According to Sami Abu Shehada, a researcher on Jaffa affairs, “The political conflict is existential, and we now see negative migration of the Arabs from Jaffa.” Statistics show that 13,000 Arabs live in the city, 75%percent of them as tenants in houses protected by state-owned companies, which appropriated property belonging to Palestinian refugees and now rent them out, he added. There are 11,000 such “refugee houses” whose rent is paid to the Israeli government. Palestinians (the so-called “Israeli Arabs”) are not allowed to “own” these homes even though they actually belong to them. It is a bizarre situation.
As you wander around these areas, the features of the houses indicate that their inhabitants are Arabs; they are made of tin and zinc, with remnants of some old houses standing as witnesses to the state crimes committed against their owners. It is hard not to notice the high-rise blocks and luxury apartments that have been built on Arab land, waiting exclusively for Jews.
“Two hundred families have been displaced from their homes recently and, unable to find alternative accommodation nearby, they are forced to abandon their city and move to Arab towns elsewhere,” said Abu Shehada. In the meantime, five hundred families are battling with the Israeli authorities which have issued orders for them to leave their homes pending demolition.
Such moves on the part of the authorities will, insists Abu Shehada, see the Arab presence in Jaffa “extinct within ten years”, which is exactly what the Israelis want, of course. He pointed out that the Israelis use Arab neighbourhoods as a dumping ground for those Palestinians who act as collaborators, hundreds of whom have settled inside these neighbourhoods with their families, reflecting negatively on the economic and social structure of the Arab population.
Ramla is no more fortunate, with ruins from the past still bearing witness to the Nakba, and the present situation illustrating that the catastrophe is ongoing. What of the future? Concerns about expulsion and displacement persist, and with good reason.
Farida Sha’aban, whose home was demolished, says, “There’s a lack of stability, with no feeling of safety or security making it a vague future for the children; my family is still experiencing the ghost of the Nakba.” Farida’s family reached Ramla in 1953 after they were displaced from the Jordan Valley. “The Nakba,” she says, “is not a history we tell our children about, it’s a reality that we live in, and we fear it’s going to be the future as well.”
Today, 15,000 Arabs live in Ramla, 20% of the population. They face significant problems, including house demolition, harassment and forced displacement – ethnic cleansing as well as seeing historical monuments demolished by the Israeli municipality which seeks not only to expel the Arab population but also remove any signs that it ever existed.
Architect Buthayna Dabit, responsible for Mixed Cities Projects in “Still” Society said, “Ever since the Nakba, Arab residents of mixed [population] cities are going through a struggle for existence. In 1948, more than twenty thousand Arabs lived in Ramla, but after the Nakba only one thousand were left.” Around 63 villages in the district were destroyed and their people were displaced, she added. According to Dabit, the majority of Jews have abandoned the old town and neighbourhoods inhabited by Arabs, and have built walls to separate Jewish and Arab areas. “And Negev Arabs, who were displaced from their land close to five thousand people have been settled here as well as almost five hundred families of the occupation’s collaborators.”
The architect says that Lod is inhabited by twenty thousand Arabs, around 27% of the population. One hundred and fifty houses have been demolished recently by the Israeli authorities, and there are five hundred outstanding demolition orders. The number of homes labelled as “illegal” by the Israeli municipality, meanwhile, is close to 2,500. There is no alternative accommodation in the city for those families so displaced or facing the likelihood of the demolition of their homes.
In Lod, you’ll find an old woman in traditional Arab costume, holding one of her grandchildren and burdened with the worry of yet another displacement; the dust of the Nakba refuses to leave her. She’s moving with her grandchildren and their future is hers, but life moves too fast for the refugee camp, leaving the original inhabitants of the land still living on the margins and among the debris of their broken homes. The ethnic cleansing goes on.
Al Jazeera Net
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