Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Only Palestinian Village Remaining in Central Israel Threatened with Demolition

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Only Palestinian Village Remaining in Central Israel Threatened with Demolition

Article excerpt

According to Israel's official records, the 600 inhabitants of Dahmash village live a single building-one that no longer exists.

The villagers' story may sound like the basis for a sinister fairy tale, but their plight is all too real.

For decades officials have refused to recognize the village's 70 actual homes, trapped between the towns of Ramle and Lod, and only 20 minutes' drive from Tel Aviv, Israel's most vibrant city.

Arafat Ismail, the village's leader, said that while industrial parks, shopping malls and estates of luxury villas had sprung up all around them, Dahmash's residents had been treated like "illegal squatters."

Deprived of recognition in their own village, all the families have been registered as living in a building on the edge of the neighboring town of Ramle. However, that house was destroyed years ago as nearby rail and road arteries expanded.

"Now, unless we can stop them, the authorities will wipe our real homes offthe map too," said Ismail, aged 54.

What distinguishes Dahmash from the communities around it is that it is Arab-an apparently unwelcome relic from a time when the country was called Palestine.

Dahmash's residents belong to Israel's large Palestinian minority, descendants of those who managed to remain inside the borders of the new state of Israel in 1948. Today, these 1.5 million Palestinian citizens comprise a fifth of Israel's population, but complain of systematic discrimination.

Most of their deprived communities are to be found in Israel's so-called peripheries, in the north or south, out of view of most Israeli Jews. But located in the midst of Tel Aviv and its satellite towns, "Dahmash is like a stick in their throat," explained Ali Shaaban, who raises sheep and goats in the village.

His own smartly appointed, two-story home is one of 16 that face immediate demolition if the villagers lose a legal battle in Israel's Supreme Court.

A hearing in March offered Dahmash's residents a small ray of hope. The judges urged the parties to find a solution that would lead to the village's recognition, either as a new neighborhood of the city of Lod or as part of the Lod Valley Regional Council. The court instructed the government, Lod and the regional council to submit their responses by September. It did not in the meantime, however, liftthe threat of demolitions.

Were Dahmash to be recognized by the regional council, as it wants, it would be able to submit a master plan and get permits for the houses under threat of demolition. However, Lod Valley has previously rejected the idea of including Dahmash. Lod municipality has also refused to incorporate the village's houses.

Since the families were moved by the Israeli authorities to this location from other parts of the country shortly after the 1948 war, they have found Dahmash turned into an embattled enclave.

"It's like they are slowly trying to squeeze us until we reach breaking point and leave," said Shaaban, aged 53.

Such fears have only been heightened by bellicose statements from local officials. Yoel Lavi, Ramle's long-time mayor, told a journalist in 2006 that the government should send in special armed units and military bulldozers as it does in the occupied territories. "When you give the first shock with the crane everyone runs from their houses, don't worry," he said.

Surrounded on all sides by the towns of Ramle and Lod and by an exclusively Jewish farming community called Nir Zvi to the north, Dahmash can be reached only by crossing a series of railway lines, along a potholed dirt track that floods during the long winter months.

Large piles of trash litter the streets and have to be burned by residents, said Ismail, because the Lod Valley council, which has jurisdiction over the area, refuses to take responsibility for the village.

A maze of jerry-rigged electricity and water lines, connected to a handful of the original buildings in Dahmash, provide a threadbare link to modern convenience. …

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