Kufr ‘Aqab is located at the northeastern edge of Jerusalem, 11 km north of Jerusalem’s Old City and about four km from the city of Ramallah in the West Bank.3 Until recently, Kufr ‘Aqab was an affluent suburb of Jerusalem. Today, the construction of the Annexation Wall separates it from Jerusalem, and the combination of severe restrictions on building, housing demolitions, and land confiscations has turned the community into an urban ghetto. Like other Jerusalem neighbourhoods separated from the city by the Wall, residents of Kufr ‘Aqab are denied sufficient municipal services by the Occupation Municipality.4
Kufr ‘Aqab was originally settled by the Jebusites and Canaanites around 2000 BCE. The modern village was established around 1600 and named after an Ottoman-era man named Kafeer who stayed ('Aqab= “stay”) at a local well in his caravan. The two words later combined to form the village’s current name.5
Until 1967, Kufr ‘Aqab was an upscale Palestinian neighbourhood with a low population. Since then, the population has increased dramatically. From an estimated population of 10,000 residents, the population has risen to estimated 60,000.6 Yet alongside this population explosion, the lands of the village are continually diminishing due to Israeli confiscation. Since the occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has established an industrial park, annexed land for the occupation municipality, established the Jerusalem-Ramallah road, and developed an airport. In 1982, an Israeli military base was built on the village land in addition to the construction of the Kokhav Yaakov colony in 1985 and its subsequent and steady expansion ever since.7
Once an agricultural community, today Kufr ‘Aqab residents depend on several economic sectors, mainly the Israeli labor market, which absorbs 50% of the workforce. According to a field survey conducted by ARIJ in 2012, the distribution of labor by economic activity in Kufr ‘Aqab is as follows:8
- Israeli labor market (50%)
- Government or private employees sector (25%)
- Trade sector (15%)
- Services sector (5%)
- Industry (4%)
- Agriculture sector (1%)
In recent years, a large number of Kufr ‘Aqab’s native residents have immigrated to North and South America and Europe in search of job opportunities.9 Many families with enough money to move have relocated to other parts of Jerusalem that are not cut off by the Wall. They've left behind a neighbourhood increasingly beset by poverty and crime. In the security vacuum, residents try to maintain order themselves by relying on local elders and powerful families to resolve disputes.10
The most dramatic blow the Israeli occupation inflicted on Kufr ‘Aqab occurred with the construction of the Annexation Wall following the Second Intifada. However it should be emphasised that construction of the Wall is just another, albeit particularly destructive, episode of the colonial onslaught on the village which is a part and parcel of the occupation’s bid to ethnically-cleanse Jerusalem of its native Palestinian population, a process going on since the 1948 Nakba.
Complex legal status
With the construction and development of the illegal Annexation Wall, Kufr ‘Aqab has evolved into a kind of “no man's land.” Technically it lies under the jurisdiction of the Occupation Municipality, but it is physically disconnected from the city by the Wall. This complex status of the village has created an array of absurd problems and insurmountable challenges for Kufr ‘Aqab’s residents.
Many young Palestinian couples, where one partner has a West Bank ID and the other a Jerusalem ID, have flocked to the area due to particular complexities based on the construction of the Wall. To be together, the Jerusalemites move north across the separation barrier to Kufr ‘Aqab, which is still technically within the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem occupation municipality. Furthermore, Kufr ‘Aqab residents are required to pay taxes to the Occupation Authorities. The only way for these displaced residents to keep their Jerusalem ID, and maintain access to their city, is by living in Kufr ‘Aqab and paying taxes - despite the fact that the occupation municipality provides the bare minimum of services to Kufr ‘Aqab.11
Infrastructure and services
With the construction of the Wall and lacking a physical connection to occupied Jerusalem, Kufr ‘Aqab residents do not receive the vital services taxpayers have a right to. While the Jerusalem District Electricity Company is the main power provider in the village, connection to the sewage system is available only in very limited areas of the village. In 1998, Kufr ‘Aqab residents were forced to create a sewage system of their own to tackle this crisis and dispose of their wastewater. Residents also do not receive proper services in other basic sectors such as waste collection, healthcare, or education despite being required to pay taxes to the occupation authorities.12 This is not simply a result of the Annexation Wall but also of a systematic policy of neglect in all Palestinian communities in occupied Jerusalem. This constitutes a flagrant violation of both international law and even the occupation’s own legal system.
To complicate matters further, many Kufr ‘Aqab residents are under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, but Israel does not allow the PA to operate and provide services in Kufr ‘Aqab since it is within the boundaries of the occupation’s municipality. This creates a reality in which these residents have no governmental institution responsible for providing them with basic services.
Access to water and sanitation
On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights.13 Thus, out of the variety of community governance and infrastructure problems Kufr ‘Aqab faces, from unplanned growth, failing schools, and crime regulation, one of the greatest concerns is insufficient access to water and sanitation.
The Jerusalem Municipality does not tend to any problems in the neighbourhood, including infrastructure. In 2000, after severe flooding, residents funded a sewage system from their own money after the Municipality had ignored requests by residents for maintenance of the system. The Palestinian Authority does not have access to do work in the area, leaving residents in limbo.14
In 2004, Israeli Occupation Authorities demolished five homes in Kufr ‘Aqab and three more in 2006. In August 2010, an Israeli plan was revealed according to which 30 houses in Kufr ‘Aqab were set to be demolished. Due to the establishment of the Annexation Wall, six houses belonging to Palestinians were demolished in 2010 alone.15
In 1984, 2,037 dunums belonging to Kufr ‘Aqab residents were confiscated for the establishment of the colony of Kochav Yaakov.16 Kochav Yaakov expanded between 1988 and 1995, particularly under the labour government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The expansion of the Kochav Yaakov colony meant the annexation of further territory belonging to Kufr ‘Aqab’s Palestinians.17
Occasionally, Palestinian residents of Kufr ‘Aqab were forced to directly confront the imposing colonial project. This was the case in 1999 and 2001, when Zionist colonies were ringed in by fences and barbed wire preventing Palestinians from accessing their own land and property. In 2002 and 2003 respectively, the outposts of Kochav Yaakov West and Kochav Yaakov East were erected. In total, the amount of land confiscated and annexed from Kufr ‘Aqab by 2001 had reached approximately 2,800 dunums (estimated to equate to half of the village’s land). In 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Construction and Housing revealed plans to build another colony south of Kufr ‘Aqab. The plan includes the building of 11,000 new housing units.18