You probably missed it, and who can blame you? Between growing chaos in Israel’s government and the horrific news reports of multiple mass shootings in California (some near my old stomping grounds), it was a blip. Four shootings, six wounded over one weekend in January in one Israeli city: Lod. There were further reports of violence this week, including kidnappings. A young man “known to the police” was killed earlier in the month.
The shootings took place in broad daylight, in public places — two near the city’s open market. A teen recalled seeing a shooter sitting calmly in a car, face exposed. He told the teen: “Get out of here, quickly!”
Even if you noticed it, you were almost certainly on to the next news item — Ukraine or Iran — right away. Even in the best of times, news has the lifespan of a mosquito landing on your arm. But the people of Lod can’t forget what’s happening in their city. They are living in terror, some under siege. Their children are afraid to leave the house, some don’t go to school. “It’s like living in a war zone,” says one mother.
“Family violence,” says a bland news report. Translated one way, that can mean that if just one member of an extended family is involved in crime, if they owe money to the wrong people – all the other members, including distant cousins and those with the same last name, are at risk. When it’s Lod, they never write “innocent victims of shooting.” Six hospitalized with light-to-medium wounds. That is, six more people who will bear deep scars for the rest of their lives.
It’s like living in a war zone
“Family violence” in the Hebrew media is also often code for: “That is how ‘they’ do things. Don’t ask hard questions. Don’t waste time pondering how things were allowed to get to this point.”
Lod is the city Israel forgot, and its Arab citizens feel particularly overlooked and alone. When people are getting shot in the street, nowhere is safe for them.
Somaia Abu Zer Geben, Women’s Rights Coordinator in Na’am – Arab Women in the Center and a resident of Lod said: “We’re not calm, we don’t sleep. We heard all the shots here; it is not easy to cope in this atmosphere. When my son goes off to work, I worry he won’t come back.”
There is a sense of hopelessness among the residents of predominantly Arab neighborhoods. “We can’t do anything about it when shootings occur,” says Abu Zer Geben. “It’s the police who are supposed to be doing something.” She and the women of Na’am work to limit the violence and protect women who are in danger, but the struggle is never-ending. They can win many individual battles, but not the larger struggle against violence.
Fidaa Shehade, Lod city council member, added: “We heard the shots; we heard the ambulance sirens. What we didn’t hear was any police sirens.”
When a reporter suggested that the new Internal Security Minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, who has promised to beef up the police force, might change the situation, the interviewees scoffed. This is the same Ben Gvir who strode though the Arab part of Lod just ten days before the outbreak of civil unrest in May 2021. It is the same Ben Gvir who supports the “internal settlers” in Arab neighborhoods, among them young men who incited violence during those days of rioting and killing. They believe Ben Gvir will never feel obliged to help them – citizens who are supposedly equal under the law — much less allot resources to do so.
Violence in Lod is not new. Arab women, in particular, have long been victims of domestic violence and murder. But, says Samah Salaime, Na’am director, “crime in Lod is reaching new levels. I am getting reports of high-school girls using hard drugs, something that never happened before. People are more afraid than ever of walking out of their front doors. And some of the best ones are leaving, if they can.”
The city Israel forgot
Lod, to a great many Israelis, is the place connected to the airport, nothing more. It is a place they drive by getting to other places, not one they have ever stopped in. It is a town in the “periphery,” right in the geographical center of the country, an embarrassing poor relation who gets seated at the far end of the table.
Lod, is bleeding; it is bleeding in plain sight. Its problems are not insurmountable, but they require a team of specialists, not a band aid. They are a symptom of something much larger, something that goes well beyond city limits. The police arrested a few suspects, but the violence won’t stop. It is unlikely those suspects will even go to prison. They will most likely get off for “lack of evidence.” Guns will continue to flow into the city. Its citizens will continue to fear for themselves and their families every time they step out to buy a few groceries, send their kids to school or go to work.
What can be done? The police must do their jobs; and the courts must take danger to others into consideration when sentencing offenders. The Knesset must pass laws to prevent the violence that is happening; welfare offices must address underlying social issues; educational institutions must address citizenship in a way that reduces violence; we all must cease to view this violence as something that only happens to those who have the misfortune to be born into a particular family.
Lod is bleeding in plain sight. Its wounds are the kind that leave permanent scars, handicap its body of citizens, leave them hurt and limping. With chaos above and indifference around, it is unlikely to get proper first aid, much less the surgical treatment that is called for.