On Wednesday afternoon, thousands of flag-waving revelers will descend on the
capital in honor of Jerusalem Day, which commemorates the 1967 unification of
Jerusalem after the Six Day War. Cries of “United Jerusalem!” will echo across
the city – from Sheikh Jarrah to the Old City, from Kikar Zion to Kikar Safra
and the Municipality.
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Almost every chance that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat
has to address the media, he stresses the unification of Jerusalem and the
impossibility of splitting the city. “There is no good example of a split
city that works,” he has said over and over.
But as with many things in
Jerusalem, the reality on the ground is much more complicated than the ideals
expressed in the mayor’s enthusiastic statements.
The security barrier,
the current de facto border between Jerusalem and the West Bank, does not follow
the municipal boundaries of the city. In some places it keeps Arab residents of
Jerusalem on the outside, and Palestinians who are not city residents on the
Sixty thousand Arabs, most of whom have Jerusalem residency, live
in four neighborhoods that are part of municipal Jerusalem, but which are
located on the West Bank-side of the security barrier in an area roughly the
size of the Old City.
“In reality, these neighborhoods are closer to
Ramallah than to Jerusalem,” said Yakir Segev, a city councillor from Barkat’s
Jerusalem Shall Succeed party who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio. “I’m not
in favor of a Palestinian state or giving up any parts of Jerusalem, but there
are areas that are easier to compromise on, and there are areas that are less
easy to compromise on. If there’s a neighborhood that’s on the other side
of the fence, I’m guessing that if it happens – there are a lot of ifs here and
I’d rather it didn’t happen – whoever signs the agreement, it may be easier to
chop off this neighborhood for the other side.”
But residents of the four
major neighborhoods outside the barrier – Kafr Aqab, Semiramis, Zughayer and
Atarot – consider themselves Jerusalemites. The majority hold blue ID cards,
work in Jerusalem, have Israeli health insurance and send their children to
schools in Jerusalem. They also pay arnona (property tax) to the municipality rather than to the Palestinian Authority.
“It’s not united!
You see this border? They already cut Jerusalem!” said Munir Zughayer, head of
the local council for the four-neighborhood area, which is referred to loosely
as Kafr Aqab.
“When it comes to taxes, you have an ID card, so they say
come and pay; but when it comes to your rights, you don’t know if you’ll get
them,” said Zughayer, who is from one of the large families after which the
neighborhood is named.
Entrance to the neighborhoods is through the
Kalandiya checkpoint, or a more roundabout route through Hizme. Because
the neighborhoods are not separated by a fence or border from Area A and
Ramallah, which are controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the area has become
Jerusalem’s equivalent of the Wild West.
The municipality won’t enter the
area without a police escort, and the police won’t enter the area without a
military escort. Getting the three bureaucracies to coordinate their moves is a
Herculean task, so the area is left mostly to its own devices.
usually provided by the city of Jerusalem are a haphazard patchwork of private
contractors chosen through public tenders. The city legally cannot give
contracts to Palestinian companies, so often, as in the case of trash
collection, an Israeli company wins the bid and in turn finds a Palestinian
company to take care of the work because Israeli workers will not enter the
The byproduct of having a middleman is that less and less
money goes directly to the area’s needs.
Most of the area’s streets are
unpaved dirt roads that turn muddy in the winter. Potholes in older
streets go unfilled.
In September, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad earmarked NIS 1.2 million to pave roads in part of Kafr Aqab, enraging
the municipality, which accused the PA of flaunting sovereignty over the area.
Residents said the PA paving did not continue. The municipality said a private
contractor reports monthly about maintenance work needed on neighborhood
Kafr Aqab’s water and electricity are taken care of by Palestinian
companies. Bezeq’s contractor in the area has a limited number of
Internet and telephone lines, but newcomers must use Palestinian
Magen David Adom can’t enter the area, so residents call Red
Crescent ambulances to transport them to the Kalandiya checkpoint, where they
are transferred to MDA ambulances – a process that can take up to an hour if not
No police presence means traffic is a
free-for-all, with non-functioning traffic lights that sometimes have cars
barreling the wrong way down the highway. In the absence of enforced
laws, apartment buildings spring up chaotically, slapped together with cement
and bricks – and no building codes. Cracked foundations are painted over
Curiously, the neighborhood’s enthusiastic builders have
unanimously and voluntarily held to the zoning law that requires all exteriors
be faced with Jerusalem stone.
“Inside the wall in Sur Baher, you can
build one extra step [without a permit] and the municipality will demolish it,
but here you can build huge 10-story apartment buildings and no one cares,” said
Rada G., a two-year resident of Kafr Aqab who moved there with her three
children from Shuafat.
“People take meters of the street and just claim
it as theirs, so the street is barely wide enough for two cars,” she added. A
municipal spokesman said the anarchy and rapid construction made it impossible
for the city to keep up with requests for sidewalks, road paving or improvements
– or even to know the names of the streets and update maps.
police are responsible for the Kafr Aqab area, but not for the nearby Kalandiya
Refugee Camp, which falls under the Judea and Samaria district. If the
police need to enter the neighborhood, “we are almost always accompanied by the
army, because there have been instances of lynches, ambushes and rock-throwing
in the past,” said Jerusalem Police Spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby.
declined to say how long it took to coordinate an army escort for the police in
instances where they had to enter the area. “If necessary, the police can enter
by themselves,” he said.
Residents cite the burdens of the checkpoints
and trash collection as the most pressing issues. According to Zughayer, the
city’s contract for trash is to remove around 200 tons a month, while the
neighborhood actually produces 600 tons. Because collection is performed by
private companies rather than the city, residents’ complaints go unanswered, and
sometimes trash goes uncollected for 10 days at a time, causing serious health
But the security barrier is the biggest frustration, providing
a physical reminder of the separation between their neighborhood and what
activist organizations refer to as the “center of life” – the city where they
work, learn, shop and receive health services.
“The children started
recognizing the occupation more when we moved here,” said Rada.
Jerusalem residents have blue-ID cards, they can use the Hizme checkpoint –
similar to Jewish residents coming from West Bank settlements – rather than the
crowded and chaotic Kalandiya checkpoint, where fenderbenders are
Surprisingly, the construction of the security fence has actually
caused the population to grow.
In the past six years, since the
construction of the barrier was completed in the area, the population has risen
from 17,000 to 60,000. Part of the reason is the affordability: Prices are
drastically lower than east Jerusalem neighborhoods inside the
Indeed, a spacious four-bedroom apartment in Kafr Aqab, with
multiple balconies, huge kitchens and marble floors can cost as little as NIS
100,000, compared with NIS 250,000 for a 1.5- room apartment in Shuafat, said
Rada, who grew up in the Old City and said she still feels “most natural” inside
the Old City walls.
“I don’t feel like we abandoned Jerusalem,” she
explained. “This is still Jerusalem.”
Rada said she moved to the area
because she wanted to raise her children in a larger apartment. “You’re still
satisfying criteria for [Jerusalem] residency, but you’re in no-man’s land,” she
To be sure, many of the houses are so lavishly decorated – with
arched windows and curving balconies – that stepping outside into the
trash-filled street, with sewage running in an open ditch, can be a shock, like
stepping across the threshold from First World to Third World.
said that most of the new residents in the Kafr Aqab neighborhood are not
Jerusalemites fleeing high prices, but Palestinians who want to take advantage
of Jerusalem services.
“In Kfar Aqab there are twice as many residents
than there are supposed to be, so of course there’s a lot more trash and a lot
more sewage than there’s supposed to be,” he said.
There are no borders
between Kafr Aqab and the Palestinian territories, so the municipality has no
way to stop Palestinians from moving into the neighborhood and, because its
inspectors never enter the area, no ability to check.
The area has also
proved an unlikely solution for “mixed” families, where the husband or wife has
Jerusalem residency, but the spouse does not. After family-unification
applications trickled almost to a stop following the Second Intifada, families
in this situation found that living in Kafr Aqab allowed one spouse to maintain
residency while the other could continue working in the Palestinian
While Kafr Aqab’s daily problems increase, residents say
they want to know where they stand, because living in limbo between Israel and
the Palestinian territories is not a situation that can be
“If it stays like this, it’s a big problem,” said Zughayer.
“Either we’re Jerusalem residents or we are part of a Palestinian state. We have
to know. We live under two laws, Palestinian and Israeli.”
he explained, school curriculums for the four municipality schools have to come
from Israel, but cannot have references that the Palestinian Authority finds
offensive. Though PA security forces are forbidden from entering Jerusalem
without cooperation from the Israeli military, this is impossible for Israel to
enforce, and the Palestinian police do enter and make arrests.
Kafr Aqab resident who works in the community center, which is funded by the
municipality, said that moving from inside Jerusalem to Kafr Aqab required a big
identity shift in addition to a physical relocation.
“People try to
change their world; they try to find a school or a market in Ramallah [rather
than Jerusalem] because the checkpoint makes life very difficult,” she
Living in Kafr Aqab, she said, was like the traditional Arabic
expression, “holding the world in the middle,” or getting the best of both
“We’re very close to Ramallah, and we can get services from
Jerusalem – we can keep our services and our rights,” she said.
like almost all Kafr Aqab residents, was adamant about the area staying part of
Jerusalem – not just for maintaining the political residency requirement, but
for maintaining her identity as a Jerusalemite.
“But we don’t feel united
because there’s a gap between inside the wall and behind the wall,” she said.
“How can we talk about a united city if we don’t get the same type of services?”
“It’s not that we can’t give them services, it’s that it’s really difficult,”
said Segev. “They are our residents. We have to give them the services that we
give to all the residents. I know they receive less.... But the municipality can
barely get to these neighborhoods because of the fence and security.”