Palestinians Stuck In Jerusalem 'No Man's Land' The neighborhood of Kufr Aqab is technically part of Jerusalem, but it lies on the Palestinian side of the West Bank barrier. Residents say it has become a "ghetto" for Palestinian couples who are limited in where they can live because one partner is from Jerusalem and the other from the West Bank.
NPR logo

Palestinians Stuck In Jerusalem 'No Man's Land'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/126000690/126010349" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Palestinians Stuck In Jerusalem 'No Man's Land'

Palestinians Stuck In Jerusalem 'No Man's Land'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/126000690/126010349" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This next report suggests some of the complexities of maneuvering through daily life in the Middle East. We're going to a neighborhood that is in Jerusalem, so it's part of the municipality, but it is outside the security barrier, the wall, that the Israelis have built to keep out suicide bombers.

What has evolved is a kind of no man's land. Residents pay taxes to the Israeli authorities but get virtually nothing in return. Yet people are eager to move into this district in East Jerusalem.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on why so many Palestinian couples are moving there.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's been a long day and Bayan Barghouti has been impatiently waiting for his wife and six-month-old daughter to come home.

(Soundbite of door closing)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mother and child walk through the door and are immediately greeted by Bayan.

Mr. BAYAN BARGHOUTI: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The couple don't look like star-crossed lovers. Like the majority of Palestinians in this neighborhood, Bayan and his wife Roula surmounted a great deal of opposition to be together.

Roula, who has wide brown eyes and a Cheshire cat smile, says her family was against the match.

Ms. ROULA BARGHOUTI: They refused at the beginning, but then I did my best to convince them that it's my choice and I'll handle the consequences.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The problem: Roula is from Jerusalem, Bayan is from the West Bank. To be together, they had to move to the neighborhood of Kufr Aqab, away from both of their families.

Ms. BARGHOUTI: It's the only solution for me. I have no place, other place to live with my husband. He's a West Banker and I cannot live in an area in the West Bank nor can he live in an area in Jerusalem. So it's the middle.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Palestinians from Jerusalem can travel freely between the West Bank and Israel, but to maintain their residency permits they have to live within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries. Most Palestinians from the West Bank don't have permission to cross the wall which Israel has built in and around the occupied territory.

So that has made Kufr Aqab the only place where Jerusalemites and West Bankers can live together. Because they live in what is technically part of Jerusalem, Roula can fulfill her residency requirements while Bayan can commute to his job in nearby Ramallah.

Bayan says the minute they decided to get married, they knew they would have to live here.

Mr. BARGHOUTI: (Through translator) I knew the path would be one of suffering, but I took the chance. I know they will never grant me a permit to be in Jerusalem, so the day we decided to get married, we knew we would come to live in Kufr Aqab.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But they're not happy about it, and describe the neighborhood as a kind of ghetto for Palestinians in their situation.

To prove residency, Palestinians in Kufr Aqab have to pay arnona, or the Jerusalem municipal tax, but they get almost nothing in return. The streets are mostly unpaved, services are minimal, there are few schools and only one recently opened clinic.

Roula and Bayan say this place is symbolic of how Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are slowly being disenfranchised. Israeli restrictions are forcing Jerusalem residents to either marry other Palestinians from Jerusalem or risk losing their residency in the city.

Ms. BARGHOUTI: If you married to West Banker, you're punished. You have to pay more. You have to live in an area that's not organized at all.

(Soundbite of children playing)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Drive around Kufr Aqab and you'll see clusters of children playing on the dusty potholed streets. This area has no municipal playground or parks, forcing the children here to make do with what they can. But that's not the most serious problem.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kufr Aqab does have a local village council. A man has come to complain to the head of it about local services. But council head Ali Barakat says there's little he can do for the people here.

Mr. ALI BARAKAT (Council Leader): (Through translator) We're in a very difficult position. There's complete confusion among the people of this area about who is responsible for what. We don't collect taxes so we don't generate any income. We survive through donations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Barakat says all the local council is authorized to do is fund some minimal road repairs or oversee the cleaning of sewage pipes, and little more.

Sahar Azer works at the local council. She says even more worrying is the security vacuum in the area.

Ms. SAHAR AZER: (Through translator) We had a situation in Kufr Aqab School where a teacher during working hours attacked the headmaster with a gun. The school called the Israeli police, who said they would not come because the school was on the other side of the wall. The school then called the Palestinian authority but it said the area is under Israeli security control, so it couldn't dispatch its police. The school was left with a man and a gun and students.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The incident was luckily resolved without bloodshed.

Yakir Segev heads the East Jerusalem department for the municipality in Israel. He acknowledges that the Israeli authorities are doing little for Kufr Aqab because of its location on the other side of the wall.

Mr. YAKIR SEGEV (Municipal Official): For security reasons, it's very dangerous for Israelis to cross the fence and walk there, so the municipality is having a very hard time giving services.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says most jobs, like garbage collection, are given to contractors. But he insists the municipality does not discriminate against Palestinians there.

Mr. SEGEV: As far as the Jerusalem municipality is concerned, everyone who's living in Jerusalem is a citizen of the city, and it's our duty to do our best, to give them the best services that we can provide.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Despite the lack of services and the daily grind of crossing checkpoints, there is a building boom in Kufr Aqab. Most of the structures are illegal, but because there's no oversight by either the Israeli or Palestinian authorities, people build with impunity.

(Soundbite of horn honking)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Standing just outside the Qalandiya checkpoint, which separates Kufr Aqab from the rest of East Jerusalem, local developer Samir Abu Rmaileh says this is one of the only places that can accommodate Palestinians from Jerusalem these days.

Mr. SAMIR ABU RMAILEH (Developer): (Through translator) Elsewhere in East Jerusalem, Palestinians cannot get building permits, and if they build illegally, their house might be demolished. Here people can build without problems.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nearby, in one of the new apartment buildings, Umm Mohammed, a Jerusalem resident married to a man from the West Bank, says she's seen the neighborhood grow.

Ms. UMM MOHAMMED: Kufr Aqab used to be empty, I think, 10 years ago.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says now that many people have been forced by circumstance to move here, it's Jerusalem that seems like a Palestinian ghost town.

Ms. MOHAMMED: It really makes me sad when I go to Jerusalem and I see that it's empty. It's really full of people from everywhere, except Palestinians. When we walked in the streets, we used to know everybody there. Nowadays, we know nobody there. I feel that I'm a foreigner there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Umm Mohammed says she doesn't like Kufr Aqab, but she knows she's here to stay.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.