Visit to Ramleh + some reflections on Lithuania

Some Israeli friends invited me to visit an unrecognised village in Ramleh, where they took part in an artistic protest. They told me that the families that live there were expelled from their original villages after the Independence of Israel was announced and in a period of rather lawless situation many Arab residents were forced to leave their homes. Many of them did not stay in Israel at all.
Residents of Dahmash settlement did. They, along with Israeli activists helping them, have estimated that demolition of a house costs about 20,000 NIS – for this you could upgrade sewage and water supply to the village. Now the village lacks basic amenities and feels increasingly hopeless: as many times as they tried to apply for recognition, the municipality was deaf and blind. Meanwhile, they complain, a new Jewish moshav nearby got all the rights and all the amenities immediately. The villagers went to negotiate with the new members, but those reported they just got what they wanted from the government, and perhaps would not want to compromise their situation. The only positive thing is that Israel has a very progressive law: all children are entitled to school education, regardless of the status of their parents. The children of Dahmash (the unrecognised village) go to schools in towns and villages nearby, potentially enabling them to (a) claim their rights better, as they will be literate and educated to communicate with the authorities in the future, (b) access the labour market outside the village (although I cannot imagine how is one supposed to send a CV to a respectable company with the address in this unrecognised village on it). In this respect these children are better off than Roma children in unrecognised settlements in/near European cities – many of them are not in school.
Blogger Yuval Ben-Ami has written much more about the village. There is never one side to a story. State authorities are under multiple pressures. At least in Lithuania, unofficial housing is a big issue. The Roma settlement in Kirtimai, Vilnius, is in heavy debt to the municipality, for which some basic amenities are periodically disconnected. Many children do not go to school, and crime is thriving (this is said to be the biggest drug hub). When inhabitants try to move in together with all their family members they are used to have around, non-Roma neighbours complain. 49% ethnic Lithuanians surveyed (as of 2009) reported they would not like to have Roma neighbours, and 38% would not like to work together with Roma.
However, a parallel problem with unrecognised housing in Lithuania is local mafia, nouveau-riche and politicians building or expanding their houses illegally in protected heritage areas, blocking roads so that only themselves and their guests can use those, stealing land from parks and forests to make their property more attractive, and so on. The media reports such cases regularly, but it is very difficult to do something against those in power. You may not see anything in common between impoverished Roma, who have lived in that neighbourhood historically (and some rich Roma living there, too, as they have attractive business options there) and rich individuals building houses on national parks and other protected areas, such as the Curonian Spit. However, predictably, as soon as the state makes a legal exemption in its laws, the powerful will be the ones to capitalise on that. I think both states, together with the respective communities, should look for some other grounds to legalise the settlements on ad-hoc basis. And I say ‘legalise’, not evict these people and patronisingly move them into social housing.

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