A month before he wed, Dabah found himself without a home
Kaid Dabah has dreamed of living in Carmiel, near his hometown of Dir al-Asad, since he was 15 years old. He was drawn to the neighboring town's orderly streets, quiet and clean neighborhoods, and entertainment and leisure options that his village lacked. As an adolescent, he remembers, he longed above all for personal freedom and presumed he would find it in Carmiel, out of his family's reach.
In August 2004, at age 28, Dabah and his fiancee decided to realize that dream and buy a home in Carmiel. The housing crunch in his village only reinforced his decision and persuaded his parents. He found an apartment on He'asif Street in Carmiel's Givat Ram neighborhood.
"Within a week, I had reached an agreement with the owner on the price and signed a contract with him. I worked on the bank, and they approved a mortgage for me. I thought I was at long last making the dream come true," Dabah said. But the Jewish National Fund had other plans.
"A month before the wedding, after I had signed the contract and made a down payment of NIS 40,000 to the apartment's owner, the lawyer called me and told me to come see him as soon as possible," he continued. When Dabah arrived for a meeting, the lawyer informed him that the land on which the apartment building stands belongs to the JNF.
"The lawyer said to me: 'I'll give it to you straight: The JNF doesn't sell to Arabs and you can't buy the apartment.' I felt my world cave in," Dabah said.
With his wedding a month away, he found himself without a home. All that running around to find an apartment, secure a mortgage, buy furniture and, most importantly, to realize his dream, had come to nothing.
"That was the hardest period in my life. I lost a lot of money, but it's not the money; it's a matter of honor. I felt like nothing, a total loser in this country. I felt there is no limit to racism in this country. The JNF has forgotten that the lands on which Carmiel sits used to belong to my family. Everyone can live there and I, a child of this land, cannot live on the lands of my ancestors? They give us a blue Israeli identity card. I'd like to know: What meaning is there to this identity card? What does it give me? It doesn't give me the basic right to a home," he wrapped up, his voice dropping as suddenly as it had risen at the start of his monologue.
After he lost his dream home, the saga of finding another apartment for the young couple began.
"In the end, I rented an apartment in Carmiel for a year. The furniture I had bought, based on the dimensions of the [original] apartment, didn't fit in the new apartment and I was forced to sell it at half price. Fortunately, the apartment owner was understanding about my situation and returned most of my down payment. He also got a raw deal in this whole story; he was counting on me to buy so that he could move out," Dabah said.
Dabah turned to the Mossawa Center, an advocacy organization for Arab Israelis, which set him up with a lawyer.
"The lawyer met with JNF representatives and they stressed again that they would not let me buy the apartment, even if the whole country protested," Dabah said. After that meeting, the lawyer told him to retain legal representation and sue the JNF.
"I realized it would be a lengthy case and I would have to pay a lawyer," Dabah said. "At that time, my financial situation did not permit me to wage a legal battle against them. I didn't have NIS 200 for gas and travel to Haifa to meet a lawyer. I'm an employee who earns around NIS 4,000 [a month]. And who's to say I would get anything out of the suit?"
He also gave up on suing the JNF for damages over the financial loss and emotional hardship he suffered. "Millions of dollars, not shekels, wouldn't compensate me for the hurt and humiliation I went through. My dignity was trampled, and no amount of money in the world would compensate me for that," he said. "What hurts the most is that nobody cared. Why?! Because I'm just an Arab without much money."
Today, Dabah lives in Dir al-Asad, but still dreams of living in Carmiel. "It's true I was in despair at that time, but I still want to build a new life in the town. I will live in Carmiel someday," he vowed.