Friday, September 25, 2020

Government services collapse in East Jerusalem

By Ben H. - November 27, 2013
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Shuafat refugee camp] [House Demolition]

 Photos by Gabriel R.

These photos were taken in and around the Shu’fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.  Shu’fat has seen overcrowding and a collapse of government services since the construction of the Separation Wall cut it off from most of East Jerusalem, and the nearby neighborhoods of Ras Khamis and Ras Shahada currently face a wave of potential house demolitions that would affect 15,000 residents of the area.


While the Israeli municipal government of Jerusalem is nominally responsible for Shu’fat refugee camp and nearby neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, it provides few services to the inhabitants and has incomplete or nonexistent records of residency and home ownership, says Ronit Sela, head of the Human Rights in East Jerusalem project for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).  “From very little services” in 2006, says Sela, “we’ve gone to almost zero services... Here the neglect is really incredible.”

When Israel’s Separation Wall, which runs through the neighborhoods around Shu’fat, was completed “in 2008 or 2009,” says Sela, “they [the Israeli authorities] decided to privatize all the garbage collection beyond the barrier...  This was the Jerusalem municipality saying 'we don’t want our people to go into these areas.’”  Because of the lack of information on residents, however, when the municipality requested tenders for the privatization contract, the estimate of the population included in the request was extremely low.

“Whether that was deliberate or whether they had no data and just took a wild guess, it’s hard for me to say,” Sela says.  Either way, the contract for the waste disposal service now treats the area as though it’s a small community, leading to collection times and quantities insufficient to cover the actual size of the neighborhoods.  As a result, trash piles up throughout Shu’fat and the surrounding region of East Jerusalem on hills, through alleys, and beside roads.


I look at the tender, I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not, but... the Israeli authorities, whether it’s the municipality or the government, have created a situation where they have no clue about anything in these neighborhoods, so any kind of service provision is going to be either inadequate or just not exactly what the needs are, there’s no needs assessment.  So there’s garbage, heaps and heaps and heaps of garbage, and it’s not being collected, and there’s not enough bins.  And whether all of it is deliberate, and whether the people who decided on the route of the barrier realized what they were doing – I think it’s mixed.  But if this was an exercise in 'let’s build a wall and see what happens,’ so now we know the answer to that one.  You build a wall, and everything collapses on the other side.


The Wall

In the last months of 2012, the Israeli Ministry of Defense rebuilt and extended part of the Separation Wall in Ras Khamis, a neighborhood near the Shu’fat refugee camp.  In the process, according to residents of the area, nearby roads and sewage pipes were damaged or destroyed.

“No one took responsibility,” says Sela.  The Defense Ministry claimed that its purview was construction of the wall and redirected the residents to the Jerusalem municipal office.  “You go to the municipality,” Sela continues, “and they say 'well, I don’t know, we’ll look into it.’  But they never do.”

Eventually, Sela says, the residents themselves raised the money to replace the sewer pipes after all the possible governmental sources of aid dodged responsibility for the damage.

“Really there’s help from the Israeli authorities... [Mayor Nir Barkat] himself made a statement a few years ago that he feels like he’s incapable of providing real services in those areas.”

The inability of the Jerusalem government to provide services in these neighborhoods has been apparent since the construction of the Separation Wall and the Shu’fat Refugee Camp Checkpoint, the crossing site for Palestinians in Shu’fat and other nearby neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.  The areas lack police forces and have inadequate schools and health centers, according to information from ACRI.  A new policy restricts people crossing at the Shu’fat checkpoint from carrying goods, forcing merchants with shops in the camp to take long detours to get supplies to their stores.



In Shu’fat and the nearby neighborhoods, the Jerusalem municipality hasn’t issued a new urban plan since 1967.  This creates a severe housing shortage and ensures that any construction since then has been conducted without proper licenses.

However, since the construction of Israel’s Separation Wall, the Jerusalem municipality has been notably absent from the area around Shu’fat.  “They haven’t seen an Israeli official there in years,” Sela says.

Although the absence of the municipality creates a lack of government services, it also means that no demolition orders have been issued in the area since the Separation Wall went up.  As a result, according to ACRI, these neighborhoods are the part of East Jerusalem where the largest amount of new housing has been built in the last few years.

All of these new buildings are, by necessity, unlicensed because of the lack of any procedures to follow for licensure. “You cannot get a permit in that area,” Sela says.  This makes it very easy for the Israeli authorities to target homes in the neighborhoods for possible demolition.



As reported by Ma’an News Agency on 31 October, “municipality officers escorted by Israeli soldiers issued demolition warrants for thousands of Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ras Khamis and Ras Shahada,” both in the immediate vicinity of the Shu’fat camp.  The warrants were notices informing the properties’ unspecified owners that the municipality was seeking court orders to demolish the homes.

A psychologist at a health center in Shu’fat affiliated with the UNRWA, who requested anonymity for this article, explains the mental health effects of house demolitions:  “The thought of the home... it’s very specific for the family,” she says.  “It leads to other problems... it makes mental defects” including drug abuse and violent behavior.

Like so many other pieces of data regarding the area of East Jerusalem around Shu’fat, precisely which buildings were targeted by the 31 October notices remains unclear.  Several of the buildings that are known to have received the orders, however, were large structures, some housing 40-50 family apartments.  While the specifics are uncertain, news reports and informal data from the residents suggest that at least 15,000 people would be affected by these demolitions – the largest number of house demolitions ever conducted in Palestine.

Ronit Sela expresses skepticism that Israel will move forward with all of the demolition orders given the spread of destruction they would cause.  Furthermore, she notes, “the buildings are so big, it would take weeks” to destroy them all.

“They might just try to demolish one house, maybe that would be enough” to discourage further building in the area, she speculates.

“But who knows.  And anyway it’s unrest and uncertainty and question marks.”



The Future

Jamal is a graying, potbellied salesman with deep smile creases at the corners of his eyes.  When I visit Shu’fat, he gives me a guided tour of the camp.  We walk past a drug den in a burnt-out, abandoned building.  Then apartment buildings with no roof, buildings with crumpling walls, piles of garbage and rubble, schools secured behind large metal gates and bars. “No one can live here,” he says, “If animals lived here, it would not be good.”

“It’s like a prison,” he says.

Jamal introduces me to Isam Hamad Ali, an engineer in Shu’fat whose house was targeted by one of the court notices.  He tells me that his family will defy the demolitions if they happen.  “We are ready to die,” says Isam.

Isam and the other residents in and around Shu’fat receive little support in resisting the demolition orders or ameliorating the civil and municipal problems faced by the community.  “The not allowed to do anything according to the international agreements.  And the Israeli authorities are not taking any responsibility, so the people are left to the UN and some of the NGOs; and that’s it,” says Ronit Sela.

No one knows if these orders will ever be carried out, or if more will come.  “We have no idea what the grand scheme is or whether there is a grand scheme or not,” Sela says.  “In Kufr Aqab [another Palestinian neighborhood on the outskirts of East Jerusalem and behind Israel’s Separation Wall] as well there are tall buildings without permits.  And who knows, maybe they’ll get notices about demolitions too.  You don’t know.”

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