Israel’s Interior Ministry has decided to merge the unrecognized village of Dahmash into the city of Ramle, even though many of the villagers are opposed and say they were never asked.
The Ramle municipality is also opposed and says it will take steps to block it, including appealing to the High Court.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked signed the order on Wednesday on the recommendation of Director General Yair Hirsch. It came about a year after the high Court of Justice instructed the government to make a decision regarding Dahmash’s legal status.
Dahmash’s legal status reached the headlines last year after two residents – Khalil Awad and his daughter Nadin – were killed by Hamas rockets. It emerged that the village had no public shelters or other protective measures because it is not a recognized entity and is unconnected with any local authority. On Wednesday, Haaretz reported that the government had been dragging its feet on regularizing the village’s legal status, after which the government acted.
However, it appears that neither Dahmash nor Ramle is happy with the decision. Dahmash residents had recently begun advancing a plan to join the Sdot Dan Regional Council as an independent settlement, an initiative that was supported by the Interior Ministry’s geographic borders committee for the central region.
The committee regarded the Sdot Dan option as preferable to the Ramle one because the council comprises farming settlements like Dahmash. As a neighborhood of a city, it’s not clear whether Dahmash’s residents can continue to make their living as farmers.
But, Interior Ministry officials said that until today, Ramle had been providing healthcare services and education to Dahmash’s residents, which means it will be able to absorb the community more easily and quickly. In addition, the ministry says there is a functional connection between the village and Ramle that it doesn’t have with nearby Lod or Sdot Dan, although the latter, which is relatively affluent, does provide Dahmash with social welfare services.
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Hirsch explained his decision not to attach Dahmash to the Sdot Dan Council on the grounds that the villagers' preference runs against a decision by the attorney general stating that the authority to establish new settlements lies exclusively with the government.
He noted that Ramle has a large percentage of Arab residents, therefore “is experienced in providing services to the Arabic-speaking population.” He added that the residents “will be easily assimilated into the population and won’t comprise an exceptional population as they would in Sdot Dan.”
Nevertheless, Dahmash residents are opposed. Arafat Ismail, the chairman of the village council, told Haaretz on Wednesday that the Interior Ministry order shows “that there will never be a shared life and peace in this country. We could have proved that we can live together, but apparently the time isn’t ripe, that you aren’t ready for it – and that’s a shame.”
He said there was an even wider implication to the order, namely that “separation will expand to other places, which will be very problematic in the future.”
“The decision was made without the minister meeting its residents or conducting a tour of the villager and getting to know it,” said Kais Nasser, an attorney who represents Dahmash residents. He said the order was “clearly not fair” and went against the ministry’s own committee on border issues.
David Yifrah, the head of the Sdot Dan Council, begged to differ. “It was a decision based on common sense. I’m happy with the decision. It’s going to be easier for the residents too – it’s a good solution for everyone,” he told Haaretz. He said the council would not stop providing welfare service to Dahmash “until everything is transferred in an official and orderly manner” to Ramle.
The Ramle municipality said in response that it “strongly and resolutely opposes Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s decision to adopt the report of the borders committee. It appears that the report was prepared hastily and arbitrarily, such that all its conclusions in connection with the options of Lod, Ramle and Sdot Dan are clearly unreasonable.”
In addition, the city said “for entirely puzzling reasons, the city of Lod was taken out of the equation, without any factual basis and despite the fact that the cities of Ramle and Lod share similar characteristics.”
Mayor Michael Vidal issued a directive to oppose the Interior Ministry order “in every legal way available to the city, including appealing to the High Court.”