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A Visit to Lod

The Khan in the center of historic Lod (Lydda) is undergoing restoration

On a warm Friday morning in November, two groups converged on a tiny, shady shelter – the remains of the bike shed built by and for the neighborhood kids. Under the shade of a fig tree, a few children sat around a table drawing as their teacher walked around encouraging them, oblivious to the two groups of visitors. A helmeted bicyclist in spandex rode past on the new bike path, and both groups looked over to the tin construction fence partially blocking their view of the Khan. Though it looks like an ancient relic, the ruins of the Khan date to 1948.

The smaller group – a handful of guests from a nearby kibbutz – had just heard Samah Salaime, head of Na’am, talk about the “forgotten” Palestinian population in the center of the country, about the murders that had been foretold -- that might have been prevented had the authorities acted -- about the fact that 80% of the murderers of women in the Arab sector walk free, about the holistic approach Na’am has adopted, because “you can offer services, but if there is no access to transportation, she cannot use the help.”

A design for a pedestrian mall in Lod. No women in hijabs or apartments for single mothers are in evidence

The larger group, some wearing blue shirts proclaiming the group’s identity, were mostly young, seemingly enthusiastic, and they followed with their eyes as their local guide pointed and waved his arm.

The smaller group was more somber, trying to digest the information they had just heard sitting in the Na’am headquarters across the way.

The stories told to the two groups were nearly identical. Jews were coming into the neighborhood, making changes, changing the face of the city.

For the smaller group, this tale of “Judaization” was the narrative of attempts by the municipal planners and right-wing groups to “dilute” the Arab vote and squeeze them out of their neighborhoods. For the larger group, the same story was one of Jews coming to save a neighborhood and a city from itself.

The events in May spiraled out of control, resulting in police action, when right-wing extremists from Jewish settlements were given free reign

As the smaller group walked on, they passed a sign depicting the restoration of the Khan – a Palestinian structure destroyed in Israel’s War of Independence (the Nakbah to Arabs) and now being reconstructed by a right-leaning, religious-led Jewish municipal council. The irony was not lost on anyone. In truth, the surrounding neighborhood, Ramat Eshkol, where the Na’am headquarters sit, is comprised of apartment buildings built in the 1950s and 60s for Jews over the razed remains of the Arab city. The Jews eventually left for Ramat Gan and Modiin; the neighborhood is today 70% Arab. Despite the Judaization efforts, the Arab population is growing, as some move in for work opportunities, others come from East Jerusalem to obtain affordable housing.

Signs hung from the windows said: “I won’t sign,” referring to efforts to remove people from their apartments in the interests of urban renewal – one that will not serve the interests of the present population.

The pre-army school for religious boys has morphed into a fenced"garin torani" -- a Jewish settlement within the city of Lod

As the smaller group walked past the Elrazi primary school and went on to look into the “garin torani” (religious “internal” settlement), the story was plain to see: The fenced-off, guarded playground in in front of the new limestone-faced buildings owned by the garin torani had an assortment of colorful new equipment for the kids to play on. In contrast, the play yard of the school had a tiny piece of cloth shade covering a few square meters of synthetic grass, and nothing else. No wonder, they thought, people are mad.

Samah has given tours and explanations to hundreds of groups and delegations over the years. To those who live just a few kilometers away, in a safe, rural community, her revelations were disturbing. Even those who regularly travel to Lod had not been completely aware of the problems and challenges the Palestinian population faces each and every day.

“Wow, that was depressing,” remarked one.

“But we hold on to our optimism,” Samah pointed out. “Because we continue to believe we can be a force for positive change.”

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