Early in the morning on July 20th the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, escorted by heavily armed police equipped with assault rifles and bullet proof vests, demolished a fishing shack belonging to a local fisherman in the Palestinian village of Jisr al-Zarqa.
After completely destroying the building, the demolition team and police forces abandoned the wreckage, forcing the local fishermen and the building’s owner, Ali Jurban (whom they did not notify of the imminent demolition), to clean it up. Adding insult to injury, the costs of the demolition will fall upon Jurban.
Jisr al-Zarqa is a Palestinian locality within Israel, and is the only Palestinian locality with access to the sea. However, despite its luxurious access to the shore and beach, and being surrounded by natural resources and beauty, it is the poorest locality in Israel.
According to the Mossawa Center – the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, 80% of the residents in Jisr al-Zarqa live below the poverty line, and only 23% of students graduate from high school. Additionally, the average income in the village is only about half that of the national average. Needless to say, it suffers from an extremely high unemployment rate. The average life expectancy in the village is a staggering 20 years below the national average. On top of all this, it is one of the most densely populated localities in the country, with 15,000 residents living within about 0.6 square miles.
The Israeli government is well aware of the desperate conditions under which the people of Jisr al-Zarqa are living. However, instead of bringing forth meaningful development and infrastructure projects to help the village and its people grow and prosper, the Israeli government has been working relentlessly to suffocate the village and its people. There is only a single, one-lane road leading in and out of the village – the road is so narrow that cars coming in and out of the village must take turns passing through it.
Discrimination towards Palestinian citizens of Israel
At the same time, the Israeli government has been endlessly promoting and developing Jewish localities around Jisr al-Zarqa. Neighboring the village directly to its south is the Jewish town of Caesarea, one of the wealthiest and most well developed localities in Israel. Its residents comprise the wealthiest and most elite members of Israeli society, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The reason for such a wide gap between the status of Jisr al-Zarqa and Caesarea lies in the discriminatory policies the Israeli government adopts and implements in the village. One of the primary methods through which the Israeli government works to stifle economic and social development is to simply prevent Palestinian localities from growing and expanding. The Israeli government intentionally grants a minuscule number of building permits to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Moreover, it grants almost no new zoning areas for Palestinian cities to expand upon, while allowing neighboring Jewish localities to expand rapidly and completely engulf them.
A prime example of this is the historic Palestinian city of Nazareth, where Jesus supposedly lived. Nazareth is now the largest Arab city in Israel and the political, cultural, and social epicenter for Palestinian citizens of Israel. In 1957, the Israeli government founded the city of Nazareth Illit (“Upper Nazareth”) meant for Israeli Jews right next to Nazareth. Now, over 60 years later, Nazareth Illit (which changed its name to Nof HaGalil last year) occupies twice as much land as Nazareth despite having less than half its population.
Due to the Israeli government’s deliberate unwillingness to approve master plans for Palestinian Arab localities and distribute building permits, many Palestinian Arab citizens have been left with no option other than to build and inhabit structures that are not officially recognized (without a permit). In turn, Israel passed the Kaminitz Law, which criminalizes building violations and intensifies enforcement of the law through increased home demolitions, larger fines, and heavier sentences for offenders, all of which deliberately impacts Palestinian citizens of Israel disproportionately.
The demolition in Jisr al-Zarqa on Monday is a sight all too familiar for Palestinian citizens of Israel. The poverty, density, and lack of development seen in Jisr al-Zarqa is echoed in all Palestinian localities in Israel. The Israeli government has, for decades, been suppressing the potential of its Palestinian citizens by passing and enforcing legislation aimed at completely sealing any and all paths of prosperity for this community. It is crucial that the international community not ignore the needs, demands, and struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israel with regards to the overall discourse surrounding the Palestinian question.
Naim Mousa is a Contributing Writer at Mondoweiss. He is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, currently living in New York. He is the Media Director of the Friends of Mossawa, a US-based sister organization to the Haifa-based Mossawa Center, which advocates for the rights of Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel. He is also a Research Assistant for Palestinian-American professor and activist Noura Erakat at Rutgers University – New Brunswick.
Wasim Nasser works at the Mossawa Center as the coordinator of resource development and international advocacy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Management from the University of Haifa.