Hamza Abu Eid speaking about his family’s situation after their home was destroyed. (Alex Kane)
Hamza Abu Eid, 17, was at school when he first heard the news that his extended family’s seven homes in Lydd — a mixed but segregated Palestinian and Jewish area of Israel — were being demolished. When he arrived to his house the morning of 13 December 2010, the rain was pouring and he was greeted by a full force of Israeli police and bulldozers destroying his family’s residence and belongings.
“The police are continuing to destroy my life,” Hamza said as he led me through his family’s rubble-covered belongings. It’s been approximately a month since the destruction of their homes, but nothing has changed. “I felt so angry, so sad, so crushed, so shocked. It’s a horrible thing.”
Hamza is one of 67 members of the Abu Eid family — among them dozens of children — who were displaced by the home demolitions in Lydd, a city that is representative of the stark contrast in living standards between Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian citizens.
According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, during the 1948 dispossession of historic Palestine during the establishment of the State of Israel — what Palestinians call the Nakba — the Palestinian residents of the town were driven out in the aftermath of a massacre that left hundreds dead. The residents of Lydd were also forced to walk miles in brutal heat, and many more Palestinian refugees died. The Abu Eid family are originally from al-Mansoura, but were expelled during the Nakba to the northern area of Safad and then to Wadi al-Hamam before arriving in Lydd in the late 1950s.
Currently, the Jewish areas of Lydd are built-up and visibly nicer-looking, populated by many Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Palestinian residents, who make up nearly a third of the city’s population, are routinely denied permits to expand or build homes in their city and are faced with systemic discrimination. For example, the Abu Eid family had to build and expand their homes without a permit as the family grew. The family sought to obtain retroactive permits, and many appeals were made while the Abu Eid family’s case was litigated in Israeli courts.
As he stood near a tent on top of the place where he once lived, Muhammad Abu Eid, a youthful-looking 16-year-old, asked, “What would they feel if we demolished a Jewish home?”
According to members of the Abu Eid family, while the demolition was happening, Israeli police brutalized them. Police hit them with batons and kicked women and children, including a pregnant woman. The Abu Eid family also said that the police shot their dog. Sitting by a fire, 75-year-old Safia Abu Eid added that the police kicked her after she asked “Why are you demolishing, destroying our house?”
The Israeli police have also set out to intimidate the Abu Eid family by calling family members into the police station with questions about the weekly protests that have been held in Lydd since the demolitions.
Meanwhile, the winter months in Lydd are cold, and the women have been sleeping in their neighbors’ homes while the men have to sleep outside in tents.
“What [the Israelis did] was terrorism,” said Riad Abu Eid, 54. “Until now, we have no solution,” he said, explaining that the family had been living there since the 1950s.
The housing demolitions aren’t the first time the city of Lydd made headlines this year. The city garnered Israeli media attention in the wake of a spate of violent crimes in October 2010. In response, the Israeli government passed a large “emergency assistance” plan meant to “strengthen and develop the crime-ridden city,” according to the Israeli daily Haaretz (“Israel approves NIS 160 million project to save crime-stricken Lod,” 31 October 2010). Part of that plan, though, went to “enforcement regarding illegal construction” (“PM Netanyahu to Submit Lod Development Plan for Cabinet Approval on Sunday,” Prime Minister’s Office, 31 October 2010).
According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the Israeli actions were “one of the biggest demolition operations inside [Israel] this year. The houses, owned by Palestinian citizens of Israel, are located in an area which is not zoned for building despite the repeated attempts of the residents to re-zone the area in order to permit building. At the same time, large plans are already approved for Jewish-Israeli building as soon as the Palestinian houses are gone” (“Demolitions in Lod,” 13 December 2010).
The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported that the demolished homes are among more than a hundred in Lydd that are facing demolition, and that a dozen other homes had been bulldozed in recent years. Forty-two-thousand Palestinian homes throughout Israel are also currently under threat of demolition (“Family takes stock after mass Lod demolition,” 16 December 2010).
“There is no democratic government in Israel,” said Ziad Abu Eid, 47, as he overlooked the rubble on the ground where his home once stood. “They have no feelings. There are no human rights. How are they doing this in Israel? The other countries and nations see Israel as a beautiful country, but they do not know what happened here inside Israel.”
Buthaina Dabit, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and director of the New Israel Fund Shatil’s Mixed Cities project, sees the home destructions as part of the systematic oppression that Israel’s Palestinian citizens face on a daily basis. The current right-wing coalition government in Israel has pushed a number of discriminatory bills aimed at Palestinian citizens of Israel.
“They tell us, you are the problem, and we are going to fight you,” she said.
“We are not accepted as residents here, as citizens,” Dabit added. “We need to demand international defense, to defend us from our state, in our place. We are indigenous here.”
As for the Abu Eid family, they remain defiant in the face of Israeli brutality. “We will not move from here until they give us a solution,” said the teenaged Hamza as he walked past the rubble of his home. “Give us houses, because at this time we have no houses. We have no place to sleep.”
Alex Kane is a blogger and journalist based in New York City. He is a frequent contributor to the blog Mondoweiss, and his work has appeared in Salon, The Electronic Intifada, Common Dreams, Palestine Chronicle, Gotham Gazette and Extra. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.