The lawless streets of Kafr Aqab and Israel

What happens in Kafr Aqab is no different from Lod or other parts of the country, where crime families brazenly open fire at one another even when police are right nearby.

The security barrier and Kafr Aqab. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
The security barrier and Kafr Aqab.
Last Saturday, 50 armed Palestinians marched through Jerusalem. They wore army fatigues, helmets, a mix of red and black boots, and military vests to carry the extra magazines they would potentially need for the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles slung over their shoulders.
Armed Palestinians marching in Jerusalem – sounds ridiculous, right? It’s not. Where the Palestinians marched was a neighborhood of Jerusalem called Kafr Aqab, located north of Pisgat Ze’ev and separated from the rest of the city by a massive concrete wall. But here’s the thing: it is part of Jerusalem, and thus legally speaking no different than Pisgat Ze’ev, Gilo or the German Colony.
The Palestinian policemen deployed in Kafr Aqab after a weekend of violence, murder and mayhem, which Israel preferred to ignore. The action started on Friday when two cousins from the al-Rajabi clan got into a fight over a parking spot, a rare commodity in the overpopulated neighborhood known for its high-rise apartment buildings that lack underground parking.
One of the cousins shot the other, critically wounding him. The next day, another cousin opened fire on a group of men from the family. The three were killed. Knowing that the Israeli police would not enter the village – they consistently don’t – residents called the Palestinian Authority. The problem is that the PA has no jurisdiction in Kafr Aqab, which is – again – part of municipal Jerusalem and sovereign Israeli territory.
Hussein al-Sheikh, PA civil affairs minister, contacted the IDF Civil Administration and asked for permission to deploy his policemen to restore order and apprehend the suspected shooters. Israel gave permission, and a day later the PA police tracked down four suspects and brought them to the Qalandiya Checkpoint near Jerusalem, where they were transferred to Israeli police custody.
In other words, Israel dared not apprehend criminal suspects in Jerusalem. It needed the Palestinian police.
ON MONDAY, together with The Post’s Palestinian Affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh, I visited Kafr Aqab. We wanted to get a sense of the mood in the neighborhood after the murders, and hear directly from the local residents.
Captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, Kafr Aqab was incorporated into Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries shortly afterward. Prime minister Levi Eshkol’s cabinet had three primary considerations for expanding Jerusalem’s borders at that time: protecting Israel in the event of another war; guaranteeing Israel retained sovereignty over the Old City; and ensuring that if Israel had to withdraw from the newly conquered West Bank, at least it would be able to hold onto an enlarged capital.
Back then there were maybe a few hundred Palestinians who lived in Kafr Aqab, in sprawling Jerusalem-stone homes on hills lined with olive trees. After annexation, the residents – like the rest of east Jerusalem – received Israeli residency cards.
For years, Kafr Aqab was directly connected to Jerusalem along the same road that runs from French Hill through Beit Hanina. The Second Intifada in the 2000s changed that connection when Israel decided to erect a security barrier, cutting off the Jerusalem neighborhood from the rest of the city along with Ras el-Amud, Shayyah, Qalandiya, Samiramis, Shuafat refugee camp, Ras Khamis and Anata. According to various statistics, more than 150,000 east Jerusalem residents live in these neighborhoods, effectively cut off from the city forcing them to cross the Qalandiya Checkpoint and contend with endless traffic jams and security checks. 
A walk through Kafr Aqab tells the whole story. There are no sidewalks, almost no streetlights, unpaved roads, and piles of garbage sliding out of large green dumpsters. The new apartment buildings are all illegal – none were built with permits, and none have the associated infrastructure necessary as do apartment buildings erected in other parts of Jerusalem: parking lots, fire hoses, underground gas reservoirs, etc.
While the lanes of the main road that leads into the neighborhood are separated by concrete barriers, cars often drive in both directions against oncoming traffic.
This lawlessness is, to a large extent, Israel’s doing. The police stopped entering Kafr Aqab after building the security barrier, and nowadays they only go as far as the Qalandiya crossing. Magen David Adom stopped coming long ago, as did every other basic city service provider. Garbage is collected by a Palestinian contractor paid by the municipality. Same with the water provider.
“There is only anarchy here,” Samer, one of the local sheikhs, told us. He was sitting with friends outside his falafel stand, now empty due to corona. “Israel wants it this way purposely. They closed us off and want us to be stuck in this situation.”
When asked whom they preferred to have police the area, Israel wasn’t even an option. “The police won’t come here unless they come with large forces,” one of the men explained. “They are afraid.”
On the other hand, Samer and his friends don’t want to give up their Jerusalem residency cards. One of the reasons that Kafr Aqab is so crowded, they explained, is because of an Israeli requirement that residents of Jerusalem live in Jerusalem. As long as Kafr Aqab is part of Jerusalem, they meet that requirement. If one day it will be designated as not part of Israel, the Jerusalem card-holders would face a dilemma: either move into the city, or forfeit residency and the affiliated benefits.
As the village grew in population, parts of it entered Area B land, falling under control of the PA. That is how we found ourselves standing on a road with a school on one side displaying a sign with the insignia of the Jerusalem Municipality, and another school just across the street waving the Palestinian flag.
This is anarchy, and this is Jerusalem. Yes, it is a part of the city that 99% of Israelis have never been to and never will, but it remains today a part of sovereign Israel, a part that has been so neglected that when three men are gunned down and killed, Israel is afraid to send in its own police. Instead, it prefers to let dozens of Palestinian policemen enter the neighborhood to restore order.
The fault rests on us and our government. Our politicians have been indecisive in what they want, afraid to say out loud what everyone already knows: Israel has no interest in holding on to Kafr Aqab, and would be better off relinquishing sovereignty to the Palestinian Authority already now.
But that doesn’t happen, because Israel’s leadership prefers not to make decisions, and to allow anarchy over the rule of law. The government likes to say that Jerusalem will never be divided. But it already is. Now what is needed is a decision to do the right thing.
WHAT IS happening in Kafr Aqab however is not that different from what is happening in Lod or other parts of the country, where crime families brazenly open fire at one another even when police are right nearby.
Over 100 Israeli-Arabs, for example, were murdered in 2020, but no one is doing anything about it. Protests across the country – against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, against the police for the death of hilltop youth Ahuvia Sandak, or by haredim against the IDF draft – see burning cars, tires and the destruction of property, but here too no one really does anything.
It is no surprise that the police still don’t have a permanent police chief, and the country still doesn’t have a state attorney. Instead we have a prime minister who has no problem attacking the police, the courts, the attorney general, the state attorney and everything else in his way.
For most Israelis, Kafr Aqab is not even an issue. It is behind a tall concrete wall hidden from the eye and cut off from our capital. But what happened there last week illustrates a bigger problem that is happening across this country. We need to decide what we want.