The unrecognized village of Dahmash

The Unrecognized village of Dahmash petitions the High Court of Justice for full recognition of its existence and legality by the State of Israel

On Monday 16 March, the Israeli High Court of Justice will hear a case that may have far-reaching repercussions on one of the most crucial forms of discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens –planning and housing policy. Since the state’s foundation, not one new Arab municipality has been built in Israel, while the Arab population has multiplied eight-fold. Moreover, rather than taking care of its citizens’ housing needs, the state invests resources and money in demolishing homes already built, including many that precede 1948.

There are about forty unrecognized villages in Israel. The status of non-recognition means that residents are denied many of their basic rights. Many live under the constant threat of demolitions, with no access to basic services such as water, electricity, sewage, trash disposal, education etc. Postal service is non-existent and residents are denied an official address.

Dahmash is the only unrecognized village in central Israel. It is located between the mixed cities of Ramleh and Lod, under the jurisdiction of the Lod Valley Regional Council. The village’s seven hundred residents must cross two train tracks to enter their homes. The unpaved road leading to the village is flooded in winter and cannot be passed by foot. All residents are listed under a fictitious address: a building in Ramleh that is no longer standing.

Although all village lands are privately owned and legally registered under the residents’ names, sixteen of the houses are facing demolition orders. The state has zoned these lands for agricultural use and prohibited residential construction, a clearly discriminatory policy compared to that applied to Jewish agricultural settlements in the same area, such as Nir Zvi and Kfar Habad, where such construction has been permitted since the 1980’s. The population growth and the government’s ongoing refusal to provide building permits pushed the citizens to find informal housing solutions as well as improvised alternatives to the basic municipal services that are denied them. Dahmash’s struggle for recognition has been taking place for over a decade and has now reached a crucial point. On 16 March the High Court of Justice will hear the village’s petition for recognition.

Success in the High Court of Justice will set a precedent for all aspects of planning policy with regard to the Arab communities in Israel, which are suffering from a deep and worsening neglect. The decision of whether to recognize a particular community or not, is generally made by the government itself. State planning institutions, in rejecting Dahmash’s proposed infrastructure plans over and over, justified the rejection by claiming that creation of a new (Arab) municipality was the prerogative of the government. If the High Court rules that these institutions must be responsive to Dahmash’s needs even without explicit government approval, this may be the beginning of a refreshing change in the attitude of state planning institutions towards Arab citizens and their needs.

On Saturday 14th March, two days before the hearing, the ‘Dahmash Festival for Recognition and sopping House Demolitions’ will be held in the Village at 18:00. Many artists and musicians from across the country will perform and show their solidarity to the struggle.