Gabrielle Richards
Gabrielle Richards

Reflections from Lod Amidst Unprecedented Violence

Lod in smoke on May 11, 2021. Photo credit Soren Barnett.

Lod, along with some other mixed cities, have become the new frontier for violent altercations within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mixed cities, like Lod, are localities where Jews and Arabs live together, and recently, we have seen just how fragile that ecosystem is, with high tensions and violence that has been centred there in the midst of rockets and bombings between Hamas and Israel.

I live in Lod, where I have been participating in the Yahel Social Change Fellowship for the past eight months. I work with different community members teaching English at a high school and high-tech program, volunteering at a community garden, and I intern with The Abraham Initiatives, a shared society NGO. Following the first days of violent riots, we were relocated out of Lod to Jerusalem and returned to Lod about ten days later. Today, the city feels eerie in ways I can’t describe. Tensions are simmering, there are small squirmishes between residents, children no longer walk around alone, and there is a heightened police presence.

During the most violent times, we watched from afar as the makolet (corner-store) we frequent and community centre we work at were torched. We heard from partners about their inability to leave their houses due to violence. We watched synagogues burn and a Muslim cemetery destroyed. Molotov cocktails were thrown into peoples’ homes. Over these last few weeks, I’ve experienced sadness and anger and have been trying to understand what has been happening in the city I have learned to love.

What I do know is that the fragile ecosystem that the city holds to keep the peace was sorely shaken.

In 2018, it appeared a positive step when Lod celebrated having a mixed city council that comprised both Arabs and Jews, a trend that occurred across all seven mixed cities and was widely celebrated by organizations promoting shared society. However, despite these signs of a new time in which mixed cities held shared spaces, it quickly fell apart over the last few weeks. Tensions in mixed cities have been simmering under the surface, and the violence in Sheikh Jarrah and the storming of Al-Aqsa, alongside hostile rhetoric amongst those in Knesset and right-wing settler communities, gentrification, and crime and violence within Arab society have all contributed to the recent violence.

So, what has been fueling the fire?

In 1948, during the Israeli War of Independence and the Palestinian Nakba, the violence in Lod and Ramle displaced more Palestinians than in any other area, and many families continue to live in refugee camps across the region today. Lod, once a major passageway between major cities like Jaffa and Jerusalem and Damascus and Cairo, was levelled to ruins, many of which still remain. Since then, the city has struggled and is considered in the periphery due to its socio-economic condition, despite being just twenty minutes from Tel Aviv. Lod has experienced waves of immigration from a variety of different communities over the years, including Moroccan, Russian, Indian, and Ethiopian Jewish communities and more. Bedouin community members were also relocated from the Negev/Naqab region to the city.

The most recent wave of immigration over the past two-decades is a new group of people from the right-wing Jewish nationalist group named the Garin Torani. Today, the city has more than one thousand such families who comprise many parts of the city council, run community centres and have other active roles within the city. The entire new neighbourhood of Ramat Eliyashiv has been recently built to house the community.

Similar to settlers in the Occupied West Bank, the Garin Torani is comprised of Jewish religious nationalists many of whom seek to carry out their religious-Zionist ideologies and they receive government support. The results are often gentrification, and in mixed cities, heightened tensions with the other residents. This trend began in the 1980s when religious nationalists sought to extend their presence to secular cities along with Arab and mixed cities. Many members of the Garin Torani are connected to or from settlements and seek to extend the Jewish presence across the land. This group of residents in Lod has changed the demographic of the city and the city has seen increased tensions.

The violence in Lod is not new; however, it is usually contained to Arab communities, and therefore, often goes undiscussed until it reaches Jewish residents. According to The Abraham Initiatives, 2020 was the most violent year in Arab society. This time it came to a front when Jewish residents felt the resonance of a Pogrom with synagogues vandalised and violent riots. On the other side, the police failure has been ongoing in Arab communities who suffer from both over and under-policing. In policy, police hold a dual role to ensure both community and national security. In practice, this enables the police to view Arab citizens of Israel as a security threat, which is furthered by the rhetoric of city officials. This practice leads to police brutality and poor relations. I recently watched as an ad-hoc checkpoint was set-up outside an Arab neighbourhood in Lod. There appears to be two police systems for two different groups of people, despite both acting violently and both citizens of the same state.

While the violence erupted in Lod amongst residents, it was not long until others joined. Buses from settlements, religious-nationalist areas and Palestinians from East Jerusalem and elsewhere arrived in the city for protests, riots and violence. One person called me and shared that her Jewish neighbours went to Lod to, “protect the Jews…taking baseball bats and knives” because the police had utterly failed. This violent behaviour was endorsed by Lod city council member Amichai Langfeld, who threatened to open fire on those who tried to harm Jewish community members. Concurrently, there is an increase in requests for firearms across the state. The idea that the Jewish state did not protect Jewish people from riots and violence has shaken many Jewish-Israelis, leading people to try and take matters into their own hands. However, if I have learned anything from living in the U.S., it is that more guns do not necessarily mean less violence. Following the first days of violent riots, the Megav (border police) were called in and shortly after, the buses from outside of Lod were stopped.

So, what now?

Jews and Arabs in Lod are not going anywhere and must live together. I have had the privilege of meeting with youth since the violence occurred, and they inspire me with the most hopeful messages. Recently, I facilitated a space that happened to have one Arab student and one Jewish student – the Jewish student asked about the other student’s favourite Arab cuisine, and the Arab student asked how the Shavuot holiday was. It may sound small, but in the face of violence it felt like these two students were able to hold each other in their shared humanity. These students, along with other residents of Lod, will continue to go to school together and encounter each other in public spaces. To peacefully live in a shared space, I think we need to understand one another’s narratives and conceptions.

I believe one collective reckoning must be that we cannot continue to pretend that Palestinian citizens of Israel are not deeply connected to and identify with the struggle of Palestinians in Occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza, where their friends and family suffer from cruel policies. These issues resonate deeply within Palestinian-Israeli society and are furthered via state policy, such at the Nation-State Law and underfunding that pushes Palestinian-Israelis out of the public sphere. The violence in East Jerusalem and the Occupied West Bank is spreading to Israel proper where both police brutality and right-wing settler violence is stoking the flames that shake the very fragile balance of living together. If there isn’t an end to violence against Palestinians everywhere, I truly do not think we will not see a just and lasting peace.

About the Author
Gabrielle (she/her) is American and Canadian and was raised in the hills of Vermont before moving to Ottawa in 2015. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Ottawa. Currently, Gabrielle lives in Lod as a fellow with the Yahel Social Change Program. Through the program she is interning with Abraham Initiatives to develop a deeper understanding of shared society.
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