Today's blogpost was written by Alexander "Jake" Shapiro, a Yahel Social Change fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9-months in the city of Lod. This blog was originally published in the Times of Israel.
Israeli society used to think of Lod, a city located twenty minutes outside Tel Aviv, as a place dominated by crime and poverty. Today, Lod has made great strides from its troubled past, and is now a peaceful and safe city that could be one of the last places in Israel that can provide a model for effective Arab-Jewish shared society. Lod is a particularly useful model because it represents a microcosm of Israel as a whole, containing mirror images of the country’s diverse populations, history, struggles, and opportunities.
Lod is one of Israel’s only cities with mixed Arab and Jewish populations, both of which contain a multitude of religious and ethnic sub-groups. Lod is colored by its ancient and modern history, and especially by its experience in the Independence War. Lod suffers from issues found across Israel: crime and corruption, socioeconomic struggle, rapid population growth, religious and economic gentrification, and identity conflict.
While Lod has its issues, it also has “tremendous potential to become a symbol of multiculturalism and coexistence.” Lod’s socioeconomic struggles and mixed population provide an opportunity to build social cohesion and shared society through coordinated efforts towards mutually shared goals.
If Lod can reach its potential, it can provide a way forward for the Israeli society it mirrors to do the same. If it fails, it could represent a symptom, or a cause, of greater societal collapse.
“Lod is the very epicenter of the Arab-Israeli conflict”
- Ari Shavit, The New Yorker
Lod, formerly known as Lydda, is a small city located just twenty minutes outside Tel Aviv. Lod has been continuously inhabited for the past 8,000 years - it is an “ancient city that once sat at the intersection of the Cairo-Damascus and Jaffa-Jerusalem roads.” Lod is the resting place of Roman mosaics dating to AD 300, was known in antiquity as a “centre of Jewish scholarship,” and was a populous Arab city, especially in the late 19th and early 20th century.
1948 - Massacre and Exodus
Lod’s predominantly Arab population underwent one of the largest and quickest mass exoduses of Israel’s 1948 Independence War. According to Ari Shavit, a well-known Israeli journalist, 35,000 Arabs were forced to leave Lod within a day. This exodus came two days after 250 Arabs were killed by Jewish fighters in a Lod mosque.
Arabs leaving Israel in 1948. Photograph by David S. Boyer / Corbis
Like much of Israeli history, Mr. Shavit’s narrative on Lod is disputed. The details of who ordered what, and what the circumstances of the fighting were, might never be known for sure. What is undeniable, though, is that a formerly populous Arab city lost its entire population in a day.
As Israel still bares the scars of 1948, modern Lod still bares the scars of this event.
Lod became a popular resettlement location for Jewish immigrants in the 20th century. This is often attributed to Lod’s geographic proximity to Ben Gurion Airport - people like to say that Israel’s immigrants are sent to Lod because it is the shortest taxi ride possible after getting off the plane. Whatever the reason, Lod became a first (and often final) home for many of Israel’s immigrants.
“Lod has been a dumping ground for many unwanted people”
- Patrick Martin, The Globe and Mail
Lod’s Arab origins and immigrant history led to it being one of Israel’s most diverse cities. Almost every Israeli ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic group can be found in Lod. Its slogan is “A Mosaic of Cultures.”
Lod is about 70 percent Jewish and 30 percent Arab. The Arab community is made up of Christians and Muslims, Bedouins that were forcibly resettled, Palestinians that were moved from the West Bank or Gaza after collaborating with the IDF, and the descendents of families that lived in Lod before 1948. These communities are mostly splintered - the Bedouins are seen as second-class citizens, the collaborators are alienated, and Arab Christians usually don’t go to school with Muslims.
“In Lod, I run into all of Israel's social plights in my own building's staircase”
- Local Resident
Lod’s Jewish communities are religious and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, nationalist and progressive, and come from a range of ethnic backgrounds, including Ethiopian, Russian, Indian, Georgian, Moroccan, and others. Almost half of Lod’s Jews are immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Lod also contains great socioeconomic diversity. Wealthier families from other cities are increasingly moving into Lod’s working-class community, while Arabs and Jewish immigrants alike suffer from socioeconomic struggles.
Waves of Jewish immigration to Israel in the late 20th century, along with the resettling in Lod of Bedouins and Palestinian collaborators, coincided with the building of newer, nicer cities nearby, like Modi’in. As new immigrants streamed into Lod, wealthier families left, leaving Lod’s social fabric in decay.
These conditions, along with [proven] local government corruption and a lack of funding, caused an increase in crime in Lod, leading the city to develop the poor reputation it has held for the last twenty years. Lod has previously been described as a “free-trade zone for drugs,” a “crime and drug-ridden slum,” and a gang-ruled “Murder City.” Rappers make songs about Lod that sound like they should be about Baltimore or Detroit.
When the corrupt Lod municipality finally went bankrupt, the Israeli central government appointed a series of non-democratically elected bankruptcy managers to stand in as mayors, and to attempt a rescue operation. The first two largely failed, and their appointments “established the image of Lod as a city that is incapable of managing its own affairs.”
“Running this city is an impossible mission”
- Aryeh Bibi, former Head of the Lod City Council
The third bankruptcy manager, Meir Nitzan, had greater success. The crime rate dropped during his tenure, and the municipality balanced its budget. A democratically-elected municipal government returned, and the city continues to improve. The police have claimed success in cleaning up the drugs scene, the Israeli government is providing millions of dollars of funding, new educational institutes are being developed, and major companies like Bank Leumi, Mizrahi Bank, and Migdal Insurance have all built offices within Lod’s confines.
Unfortunately, Lod’s improvements have not benefited all of its inhabitants equally.
“Residents in [Lod’s] Arab areas complain of inferior municipal services, higher unemployment rates, crowded neighborhoods, inferior health care and unfair allocation of resources in the education system and housing”
While Lod’s Jewish areas are “clean and green,” its Arab areas are “unpaved and rundown.” In Arab neighborhoods the “streets have no names” and “the houses have no numbers” - “there are no paved roads and rubbish is strewn everywhere.” “Municipal services such as street lighting and rubbish collection stop at the boundaries” between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. In 2013, more than 20,000 people living in Lod were still not connected to the sewage system.”
Arab residents and analysts complain that the Israeli government and police ignore crimes and suffering occurring in Arab areas because they don’t affect the Jewish population. There is a “lack of adequate policing in Arab areas,” and there is “no police seriousness when it comes to investigating crimes committed between Arabs.”
Lod’s Arabs are forced to build homes without permits, leading to home demolitions or threats of the same. The Middle East Director for Human Rights Watch said that “when it comes to housing rights in Lod, Israeli officials seem to have one rule for Palestinian citizens, [and] another for Jewish citizens.”
All of these issues are exacerbated and/or caused by a lack of Arab representation in the Lod municipal government, which comes in contrast to better Arab representation in other mixed cities.
Lod’s improvements have not only left behind some of its communities, but also damaged them through the processes of gentrification. Lod is undergoing economic gentrification as wealthier families and students move in, raising the prices of homes, goods, and services. More significantly, though, Lod is also experiencing intense religio-nationalistic gentrification.
“We are taking over Arab neighborhoods and urge the Arabs to sell. I am not hiding it; our goal is to transform Lod into a Jewish city”
- Aaron Attias, religious activist
“Religious and ultranationalist Jewish families” are heeding formal and informal calls to displace Lod’s Arab residents and make it a Jewish city. “Thousands of religious young people” have already moved in. Jewish families are either moving into Arab neighborhoods, building adjacent communities, or building in former Arab communities after forcing their residents to leave through compensation or demolition. The contrast between communities is often stark - a new community for Jewish families features multi-storied buildings with balconies and penthouses, sprawling parking lots and a newly paved, well-lit and clean street, all surrounded by a park and gardens.
The Lod municipality and Israeli government are encouraging this process. The Lod municipality has enticed Jews - “many of them from Jewish settlements in the West Bank” - to move to the city by “offering them below-market prices, such as US$100,000 (Dh367,250) for a four-bedroom flat.” Authorities have “issued plans for new industrial zones or roads that are built on areas occupied by long-established but illegally-built Arab homes, forcing the demolition of those houses.” Arabs are being prevented from buying new homes. Lod’s current mayor, Yair Revivo, said that Arabs need to be forced out because they pose a “strategic threat” to Ben Gurion Airport. He also barged into a mosque to silence the Muslim call to prayer.
Beyond all the doom and gloom, there is light. New efforts have been made to foster shared society in Lod. A group of Arab and Jewish women in Lod came together to hold a night market that “invites the public to experience the food, clothing and handicrafts” of Lod’s wide range of ethnic groups. Lod is home to a social film festival that brings up both challenging conversations, and opportunities to learn about Israel’s issues. Progressive Jewish students are moving to Lod with the intention of engaging the Arab community and serving the city. Lod’s secular community is “acting to reinforce multicultural and pluralistic values” among various population groups.
Faten al-Zinati, an influential Arab social activist in Lod, said that many of Lod’s Arab residents “wish to integrate into Israeli society and share both rights and duties with the Jewish population.” Faten believes Lod’s Arab population is undergoing “radical changes” for the better. Speaking about herself, she said “the Arabs know that I want to live in peace side by side” with Jews.
Faten pointed out that Lod’s socioeconomic struggles are actually an opportunity for ethnic reconciliation. She said that “everyone,” Jews and Arabs, “wants to lend a hand to forestall the collapse of Lod.” Academic literature on peacebuilding agrees that disparate groups working together towards shared goals can foster social trust and cohesion, two crucial elements in bringing about peace and positive shared society., , ,  The literature also says that greater social cohesion leads to economic gains, which improve the lives of everyone and further the process towards peace.
Lod is one of Israel’s only mixed cities. If Jews and Arabs are going to share a society together, it probably won’t start by one moving into the other’s community. It needs to start somewhere both groups already live, in a place where both groups need to work together for mutual benefit.
Lod has “tremendous potential to become a symbol of multiculturalism and coexistence.” It can provide a model for the Israeli society it mirrors to move forward. But if shared society fails in Lod, there are few others places it can be born.
 It should be noted that Mr. Shavit was accused of sexual assault by multiple women in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
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