Jerusalem’s ‘love neighbourhood’: a refuge for star-crossed Palestinians


November 11, 2019
JFJFP

Kafr Aqab is part of Jerusalem, but was separated from the city by a concrete barrier in the early 2000s.

Oliver Holmes and Sufian Taha report in The Guardian:

A bureaucratic loophole has left Kafr Aqab as a district where Palestinians can keep a foot in both Jerusalem and the West Bank – and be with their loved ones

It’s an unremarkable suburb, crisscrossed by thin muddy streets and dotted with high-rise apartment blocks that cling to the steep hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Many of Kafr Aqab’s residents would prefer not to be there, especially as the congested neighbourhood has swelled rapidly in size. They would prefer to live in quieter Palestinian villages surrounded by olive groves, or the more coveted new builds in the centre of the holy city.

“I’m forced to live here,” says Issa Kusbeh, 41, a plumber who lives with his wife and small children in Kafr Aqab but dreams of being closer to his extended family. Yet on his floor in a new block of flats that is still being built, everyone is there for the same reason: love.

Residents of Kufr Aqab pay taxes to the Israeli government, while utilities such as electricity and water come from Palestinian companies.
Residents of Kufr Aqab pay taxes to the Israeli government, while utilities such as electricity and water come from Palestinian companies. Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images

Under Israel’s chaotically complex occupation, Palestinians are divided into multiple categories, often dictated by where they reside. Near the top of the bureaucratic hierarchy are Palestinians in Jerusalem, a city that Israel has annexed in its entirety and claims is “undivided”. They are eligible for Israeli services and can travel in the country.

Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank are lower down the permit ranking and unable to easily travel into Jerusalem. As a consequence, a Palestinian from Jerusalem who falls in love with a West Bank resident and moves in with them risks losing their precious residency status.

Kafr Aqab is the answer to this conundrum. Israel considers it part of Jerusalem, but in response to the suicide bombings of the second Palestinian intifada in the early 2000s, it isolated the neighbourhood, separating it from the city proper with a concrete barrier. The area’s denizens now live in limbo – they are technically inside Jerusalem but physically in the Palestinian territories.

This contradictory status creates a loophole, allowing Palestinians, to live in the West Bank without losing precious Jerusalem residency permits, while others blocked from entry to Jerusalem can also settle there.

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