Tuesday, October 20, 2020

ACRI petitions High Court for immediate resumption of water supply in East-Jerusalem neighborhoods

By Jan Walraven - March 26, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [Jerusalem municipality] [Shuafat refugee camp]

A view of Shu'fat refugee camp from Issawiyeh. Although within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, the camp has a separate 'security barrier' surrounding it and cutting it off from the rest of the city. 

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) filed a petition with the Israeli High Court on Tuesday 25 March, demanding the immediate resumption of water supply in four East-Jerusalem neighborhoods that have been facing acutely irregular water supply since the beginning of this month. Together with residents from the neighborhoods of Shu'fat refugee camp, Ras Hamis, Ras Shehada and Hashalom, ACRI asked the Israeli Ministry of Infrastructure to find and implement a long-term solution for the water issues these neighborhoods have coped with for several years now. 

Water supplies have been failing since Tuesday 4 March, when about 45,000 people living in East-Jerusalem woke up without running water. Faucets remained completely dry until the following Friday morning, when the water supply was partially restored, although with poor pressure. Three weeks later, the water supply has yet to return to what it was before 4 March.  

"Nobody knows why the problem has deteriorated so severely since the beginning of the month," Ronit Sela told the Palestine Monitor. Sela, director of the Human Rights in East-Jerusalem project of ACRI, added that the petition is directed at four governmental bodies: the Ministry of Infrastructure, the National Water Authority, the Jerusalem Municipality and its water utility Hagihon. "None of these, nor other Israeli authorities, are taking any responsibility. Meanwhile some families have no water at all, while most of them have to do with very irregular supply or very low pressure," she said.

Self-service in Shu'fat refugee camp

The refugees of Shu'fat are unfortunately used to the phenomenon of insufficient water supply, but it is rare that residents have to go without water for so long. "According to the refugees this problem started when the Israeli occupation forces finished the wall and the checkpoint," Khalil Abu Khadijeh, who works for Grassroots Jerusalem, a platform for social, urban and human rights activists and organizations in Jerusalem, told the Palestine Monitor. 

The problems of the irregular water supply and drops in water pressure are mainly due to failing and outdated infrastructure. The infrastructure, initially built to sustain about 10,000 residents, now has to provide water for more than 25,000. The Jerusalem municipal water utility Hagihon is not able to carry out regular maintenance work at Shu'fat's side of the wall, allegedly due to security concerns.

The Palestine Monitor talked to Omar Serhan, resident of the camp and head of the Palestine Child Center in Shu'fat. Serhan described the water supply as "self-service"; most families are left up to their own means to connect to the central water pipe in the camp. "Because we don't get water in a regular way, we are forced to steal it. But we can't get enough water for all residents and the supply is very unreliable," Serhan explained. During the day, only the schools, health facilities and UNRWA buildings are getting water, the rest of the camp receives water at night, but only for about 1 or 2 hours and at very low pressure.

Shimshon Yeshayahu, Public Inquiries Manager for Hagihon, stated in a message to the Palestine Monitor that the problem with the water supply in Shu'fat refugee camp is an issue that stems from the Israeli Water Authority. He said Hagihon has approached the Israeli Water Authority several times to stress the urgent need of governmental intervention. Yeshayahu added that Hagihon is currently supplying water to the camp on a humanitarian basis, as Hagihon does not have registered consumers in the camp and people there are not paying for the water services. He warned that severe water shortages during the next summer are most probable.

On 25 March Haaretz reported that Hagihon has installed an extra line and tap at the entrance of the camp and is increasing the diameter of a water pipe near the checkpoint. But those measures won't be sufficient.

No services

The Shu'fat refugee camp was established in 1965 in northern Jerusalem. It replaced the closed Mascar camp in the Old City and is the only West Bank UNRWA refugee camp that lies inside Jerusalem's municipal borders. Residents are entitled to blue Jerusalem IDs, enabling them to move relatively free, and also are supposed to have access to the social services offered by Jerusalem. 

Although Shu'fat is situated inside Jerusalem, it has been surrounded by it’s own special 'separation wall’ for the last eight years. There's only one road to get in the camp from the Palestinian side of the wall, and there's an army checkpoint at the only remaining road leading to the rest of Jerusalem. According to UNRWA, the camp mainly struggles with overcrowding, an insufficient sewage network and overburdened infrastructure. The official number of registered refugees in the camp stands at almost 11,000, but the numbers are more likely to be above 20,000.

As the refugee camp lies inside the municipal borders of Jerusalem, the municipality is supposed to govern the camp as any other part of the city. It is thus not only the duty of the municipality to confront the problems regarding insufficient water supplies, but also to take care of the sewage network, collect garbage, uphold law and order, maintain and construct sufficient infrastructure and roads, issue building and other permits and confront all other problems the refugee camp faces. 

Not one of these services is actually provided. Israeli interference in the camp is limited to "Israeli checkpoints controlling entry and exit to the camp and Border Police incursions into the camp," according to a 2006 report from Israeli NGO Ir Amim.

Omar Serhan summed up the main problems the camp is facing, next to the water issue. "The camp is overcrowded because people want to live here in order to get a blue Jerusalem ID. Students and workers who have to go to Jerusalem everyday have to leave more than an hour in advance because of the checkpoint. Ambulances face problems getting in and out,because they have to wait for a police escort to get in, which sometimes takes too long. There is no police station inside the camp, which implies problems are arranged with the mediation of elders. There is only one UNRWA health center in the whole camp. Finally, as the municipality hasn't collected garbage since the first intifada in 1987, UNRWA has put up a system of garbage collection,  [but] because they only have 12 employees, we have established our own complementary system." 

UNRWA claims to remove 15 tons of garbage per day, while the remaining large quantities of garbage either pile up in street corners or are burnt by camp residents, putting residents’ health at risk. According to UNRWA, the Israeli police's performance in upholding law and order in the camp are "substandard," creating a security vacuum in which criminal activity can take place openly.

The image Serhan sketched is grim. He said that people here feel left alone. "Not one government is taking care of us, not the Israeli, nor the PA," he concluded. 

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