Shu'fat Refugee Camp is located between the villages of Shu’fat and ‘Anata. The camp was established in 1965 to accommodate refugees previously living in Mu’askar camp in the Old City.1 Today, the population of the camp is estimated at 20,000; 12,000 are UNRWA registered refugees. Most of the remaining 8,000 hold Jerusalem IDs.2 3
Shu'fat was originally built to shelter 3,500 refugees who were cleansed from 55 villages in the areas of Jerusalem, al-Lydd, Yaffa, and Ramleh during the Nakba. Those from Jerusalem came from the villages of Qatamon, Beit Thoul, al-Walajeh, Lifta and Malha.
After 1948, the residents fled to the Old City and resided in the newly established Mu’askar camp in the a-Sharaf neighbourhood. Citing unsanitary conditions and fearing international backlash for modifying the historic Old City, the camp was relocated to Shu'fat, an ancient village in northern Jerusalem. Just two years after the camp was moved the Israeli occupation’s military occupied the Old City and demolished the neighborhood in order lay the plaza which is now adjacent to the Western Wall.
Shu’fat camp was established in 1965 on land leased by UNRWA from Jordan.4 After 1967 the camp came under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem Occupation Municipality. In 1968 the Municipality began providing residents of the camp with Jerusalem IDs and some basic services such as healthcare and education.
Until recently, the camp acted as a low-income inner-suburb of Jerusalem with residents commuting daily for work, school, shopping, and social and cultural affairs. However, during the first Palestinian Intifada, Israeli occupation forces began restricting access of the residents to the urban centre. Increasing restrictions, and the erection of the Annexation Wall forces today’s residents with Jerusalem IDs to cross military checkpoints. For those who have West Bank IDs, Jerusalem is accessible only with special permission from the Israeli Military. The residents of the camp have been involved in the struggle for Palestinian self-determination; they - and in particular the youth - continue to pay a heavy price.
The unemployment rate in the camp was estimated at 25% in 2012.5 For those who are able to find work, the vast majority must traverse the military checkpoint to join the Israeli labour market.6 According to a survey conducted by ARIJ in 2012, the distribution of labour in the camp is as follows: Israeli labour market (70%), service sector (15%), government or private employees sector (10%), and the trade sector (5%).7 Of the 25% who are unable to work, the hardest hit are those who once worked in the Israeli labour market but have seen increasingly severe restrictions on movement as well as those in trade sectors and large-scale industrial projects.8
Describing life in Shu’fat Refugee Camp, sociologist Slyvaine Bulle wrote in 2009:
Palestinians in Shu’fat camp invest above all in the domestic, as well as common space, working for material comfort for their families. Their attachment to place, privacy and security is affirmed through these investments, which are not always taken into account in conventional discourses of resistance. Their attachment to domesticity (nearness) privacy and individual rights appears here a tangible commitment and mode of action. Both commitment and action are responses to the fear of some future dispossession.9
The Annexation Wall radically changed life in the camp. Residents were forced to prove they had been continually living in Jerusalem in order to retain their blue IDs. As well, many families have been split. Those who hold West Bank IDs are not permitted to visit their families living inside the Wall.
In December 2011, the occupation forces opened a checkpoint at the entrance to Shu'fat Refugee Camp. The new checkpoint, which resembles a border crossing, replaced the ad-hoc one which was in use for many years before.10
Social Issues: Crime, Abuse, Robbery and Violence
The policies implemented by the Occupation Authorities that impoverish residents and deprive them of their most basic rights have had a significant impact on the social fabric of the society. Indeed, ‘divide and conquer’ is one of the effective ways Israeli authorities strengthen their grip on Jerusalem.
The camp has seen a steady increase in crime, drug abuse and violence over the past half century.11 These conditions result from widespread poverty coupled with inadequate policing and a total lack of governing institutions for conflict resolution. Disputes which could otherwise be mediated in court are subject to the ‘vigilante justice’ that often results in violence, injury and death.12
Infrastructure and Housing Demolitions
Shu’fat Refugee Camp residents established a committee that works to address the needs of the community. One of their biggest achievements was connecting the camp to the electricity grid. In 1975, the joint Jordanian-Palestinian committee secured funding to construct a water-supply network in the camp. Until 1975, UNRWA trucks parked in the camp for two hours once a day to distribute water for the residents.13
The condition of the infrastructure further diminishes the standard of life in the camp. The aging infrastructure in the camp is seldom maintained and is massively overburdened - it was originally intended for a population a quarter this size. Water and sewage networks are overrun, potholes dot the old roads and classrooms are packed with students.14
In October 2013, the occupation municipality served demolition orders on nearly 200 buildings in Shu'fat Refugee Camp, Ras Khamis, and Ras Shehadeh.15 According to the local committee in Ras Khamis, over 15,000 Palestinians live in buildings slated for demolition. The warrants were posted on 200 residential blocks each consisting of 40-70 apartments.16
Severe classroom shortages, along with deficient resources, has crippled the education system in the Camp. Classrooms are massively overcrowded, teachers are underpaid and many students do not attend due to space constraints. The Jerusalem Occupation Municipality has not constructed a single classroom in neighbourhoods behind the Wall since its erection.17 In Shu'fat Refugee Camp, the grave shortage of classrooms has meant teachers have classes as large as 45 students, and averaging around 32.18 The construction of the Wall has also caused, for the thousands of children who attend school in Jerusalem, hours long commutes through military checkpoints.19
Denial of Basic Services
Shu'fat Refugee Camp is overcrowded, and services and infrastructure are overstretched. There are problems with access to water, overflowing sewers and uncollected garbage which have created an unsanitary environment. Although the camp is located within the Israeli-deﬁned municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, it receives only minimum services from the occupation municipality.20 This is despite the fact that its residents, holders of Jerusalem IDs, pay taxes to the municipality in order to preserve their status.
For its part, UNRWA promised to provide the camp with basic services but as time goes on, UNRWA’s contribution has dwindled.21 From December 2013 to the following February, UNRWA employees struck against low-wages. According to the UN, during the strike, school was closed for some 51,000 students. 42 health clinics were closed affecting an estimated 132,000 people and putting significant pressure on the PA health facilities. In addition to the cessation of services in the camps, more than 20 employees of the UNRWA job creation program went on hunger strike in protest to extend their short-term contracts.22
Taha al-Bis, the head of the Refugee Popular Committee in Palestine, told al-Jazeera that in the camps, some have voiced fears that UNRWA's financial setbacks were due to politics. "Donor countries are trying to politicise this institution... to take away funds so UNRWA can eventually disintegrate."23