Interview. We interviewed Nadim Nashef, exponent of Israeli Arab civil society: ‘In Lod, the population is poorer than in other cities and the Arab community has to struggle to survive, in conditions of marginalization and severe environmental degradation.’

Nadim Nashef: Not religious hatred, but poverty and gentrification

“So many concrete factors—not the hatred between Arabs and Jews, or the religious tension that some people are invoking as an explanation—lie behind the scenes of civil war that could be seen in the streets of Lod on Tuesday night.”

Nadim Nashef, director of Aamleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media and an exponent of Palestinian civil society in Israel, clears away the superficial readings of what is happening in the mixed cities, where Jews and Arabs live together.

“I’m talking about real things, including of a political nature,” says Nashef, whom we asked a few questions on Wednesday, “but more often related to daily life. I am referring to gentrification, unemployment, discrimination and the eviction of Arab families unable to pay higher and higher rents. All this combined with the penetration (in Arab neighborhoods) of activists from Jewish right-wing organizations. These are problems that are also seen in other mixed cities of Israel, such as Haifa and Acre, and that have points in common, for example, with the case of Palestinian families at risk of eviction from Sheikh Jarrah, in Jerusalem.”

Dozens of cars set on fire, buildings devastated, violence between Jews and Arabs in the streets, going on for hours until a state of emergency and a curfew were declared. Why in Lod?

The spark was the murder by a Jewish inhabitant of a young man, Musa Hassouna, during the Arab protests on the occasion of what is happening in Jerusalem. But the fire has been smouldering beneath the ashes for some years. In Lod, the population is poorer than in other cities and the Arab community has to struggle to survive, in conditions of marginalization and severe environmental degradation. Some speak of hatred between Jews and Arabs, but I would point more to a growing aversion among Arab citizens, in Lod and not only, towards Amidar.

Are you referring to the agency that owns a lot of the rent-controlled housing?

Yes. Many of the houses controlled by Amidar [founded in 1949, and which has among its main shareholders the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund and the Israeli government] are homes that belonged to Palestinians who fled or were driven out in 1948 and were confiscated by the state. In the past decades, they have been assigned to the poorest segments of the population, most often coinciding with the Arab population, which have been able to benefit in this way from low rents paid to the state.

However, in recent years, in the name of the free real estate market, Amidar has increased rents and put many of these homes up for sale. The families who live there cannot afford such high costs and have to leave. They are often bought by real estate companies that later resell them to well-financed organizations linked to the ultra-right, which give them to Jewish families engaged in the conquest of Arab neighborhoods, just like in Sheikh Jarrah. And in a climate of war among the poor, the Jews who live in the most degraded neighborhoods certainly don’t look unfavorably on the replacement of their Arab neighbors with Jewish families, even if these are often very religious.

So, in the long run the tension has turned to rage. I am not surprised by the violence from the other night, but I certainly did not expect it to be so widespread.

However, gentrification is a worldwide phenomenon, not new even in Israel. Mizrachi Jews from the Middle East are familiar with that, as they’ve been forced to leave the central districts of the cities, where they have lived since the 1950s, to make room for high-income groups.

True, but here gentrification is combined with the political discourse: the most heated nationalism that enjoys a lot of support at the highest levels of power. In Jaffa, where hundreds of Arab families have been waiting for public housing for years, there is a situation of great social unease. In mid-April, there were clashes in the city in the context of plans to sell a large building in the Arab quarter of Ajami to a rabbinical college of nationalist orientation. Many saw this as an attempt to drive out Arab residents. In the wake of those riots, a meeting was held between police and Amidar officials to ease tensions, but the escalation in Jerusalem and the military confrontation between Hamas and Israel has reignited everything in cities like Lod, Jaffa and even Haifa.

What should we expect in Lod once the state of emergency is lifted?

Of course, the problems will not go away. The Arab inhabitants, if they continue to be marginalized and impoverished by government policies, put under pressure by the Amidar and subjected to constant provocations by extreme right-wing groups, will inevitably identify more and more with the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Territories and take part in their struggles.

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