The main road in Kafr Aqab, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood adjacent to Ramallah, is bustling with traffic. One lane for each route cannot contain the number of taxis, trucks and many private cars the road regularly sees. Local traffic wardens donning yellow vests are steering traffic in exchange for NIS 1 (roughly 30 cents) they receive from each taxi driver. In the absence of Israeli presence, this is the only solution the residents have found.
"We have no other choice, otherwise the road will get congested and no one will be able to pass through," says one of the wardens, Nazmi Jaber. Asked why there are no traffic police vehicles or at the very least traffic lights, he smiles and says the only police they get here are Border Guard jeeps coming in cases of riots or stones being hurled at the Qalandiya checkpoint.
The Shin Bet chief's recent overview of the "no-man's land area" in east Jerusalem surprised no one. This is life for the residents of Jerusalem neighborhoods situated beyond the security fence, such as Kafr Aqab and Shufat.
Shufat refugee camp (Photo:Elior Levy)
The Jerusalem vicinity fence surrounds the entrance into the Shufat refugee camp on nearly all sides. Several hundreds of meters away from Pisgat Zeev is no man's land. Crowded buildings, narrow, faulty roads, no parks or gardens. Even trees are hard to come by. The road to the refugee camp entails crossing a military roadblock. A new checkpoint is currently being built causing concern among locals holding Israeli IDs.
"We know that steps are being taken to keep us within Palestinian Authority territory but most of the people here would rather stay inside Israel," a local who wishes to remain anonymous says. "It’s not that we love Israel, but we know that the Palestinian Authority cannot provide work for everyone, and national insurance in the PA is not like what we get here."
Haven for Palestinian criminals
The increase in Palestinian license plates on the highways is proof of the immigration growth from the territories to Shufat and to the Anata village.
"Since 2004 many Palestinians have moved here from the territories in search of work near Jerusalem, and with them a lot of criminals who escaped the Palestinian Authority looking for a safer place. We became their haven," says the mukhtar of Shuafat, Jameel Sanduka. "Life here is very similar to anarchy."
Life of anarchy (Photo: Elior Levy)
Sanduka described an incident that occurred a few weeks ago when two Bedouin were shot and killed by armed men near a garage. "We called the police but they refused to enter the camp and requested that we move the bodies to the checkpoint. No one arrived to collect evidence from the crime scene. We were told that the investigation was handed over to the hands of the Palestinian Authority," he says.
Even during medical emergencies, he claims, the residents are forced to call for a Red Crescent ambulance, and then to drive patients to the checkpoint as the Red Crescent refuses to enter the premises without police escort.
When a fire broke out last winter in a house at the refugee camp, killing two brothers aged two and five, the firefighters called in refused to enter as well. The residents were forced to break one of the walls in a desperate attempt to rescue those trapped inside but failed to save them.
This tragic outcome created a window of opportunity to amend the situation, but Sanduka says nothing has changed. "We've talked with the municipality and asked that they supply us with our own fire extinguishing equipment so we could respond immediately the next time, but so far we have gotten nothing," he says.
All one has to do is walk around the refugee camp and see the garbage pilled up on the streets to understand the dire situation. The residents have to burn the garbage in order to get rid of the stench. The streets are filled with potholes that go unfixed.
Yet some know how to make the most of the situation: The PA, and especially Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The Palestinian PM provided the camp residents with financial aid to build new roads. In doing so, the PA managed to gain a little more control over the territory, which is officially defined as part of Jerusalem.
The PA is gaining a foothold in other ways as well. "In certain cases, undercover PA security forces come here, kidnap people and bring them in for questioning in Ramallah," says Samih, a Kafr Aqab resident. "Even when a clan fight begins and things become dangerous, Palestinian police arrive in civilian vehicles, pick up suspects, resolve the situation and get out quickly," he says.
The lack of enforcement and Israeli presence has led to extensive illegal construction. Buildings are being built one after the other, without municipal permits. Orly Noy the of Ir Amim group, which works to promote equality in Jerusalem, says that authorities encourage Palestinians residing in east Jerusalem to move to the other side of the fence and therefore ignore the illegal construction.
Trouble at Shufat refugee camp (Photo: Reuters)
Jerusalem city council backs up Noy's statement. Council member Yakir Segev, a rightist, charged a few months ago that Israel has given up on neighborhoods beyond the security fence and that he does not know anyone who wishes to enforce Israeli sovereignty there. Segev told Ynet he thinks things have gotten much worse ever since he made these statements.
"(Shin Bet Chief) Yuval Diskin is right. There is no control here, not by Israel and not by the Palestinian Authority. There's no master," says Nassar Jubran, a member of Anata's residential council. "This is going to hit Israel like a boomerang, because Hamas might take advantage of this vacuum and establish a strong base here and take over the neighborhoods."
A Jerusalem city council official said in response that the citys provide the neighborhoods surrounding Jerusalem with cleaning, infrastructure, education and sanitation services. "Firefighting, emergency and rescue services are provided immediately when needed," the official said.
Jerusalem district police said they "abide by the law and investigate any complaint from these neighborhoods." Police officials said that when security forcsd enter these neighborhoods they usually get attacked and stoned, and many times it turns out that "these calls are bogus and are made in order to attack the forces entering the area."
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