For Palestinians, Municipal Service a Do-It-Yourself Project; Israelis Deem Jerusalem Neighborhood Too Dangerous to Enter

Article excerpt

Byline: Joshua Mitnick, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Jackhammers mounted on excavator trucks attacked the pothole-littered street that for years has snarled traffic outside an Israeli military check point on the Jeru- salem Ramallah road, the most heavily traveled Palestinian traffic route in the West Bank.

After years of Israeli neglect, the stretch alongside Jerusalem's northernmost suburb of Kufr Aqeb is receiving a desperately needed resurfacing, sidewalks and new water and electrical infrastructure. The construction work is being funded not by Israel, but by aid from U.S. and other international donors to the Palestinian Authority.

The notion of Palestinian aid money funding infrastructure work in an area of Jerusalem claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians could have become a political controversy in a city where nearly every building project has the potential to tip the scales in the decades of struggle for sovereignty.

The fact that the municipal government quietly allowed the Palestinian Authority aid highlights the administrative twilight zone of Kufr Aqeb since the latest Palestinian uprising.

"This is the first time that anyone has ever repaired anything for us,'' said Imad Abu Rumeillah, the owner of a grocery store along the Jerusalem Ramallah road.

The Kufr Aqeb neighborhood lies on the Palestinian side of Israel's security barrier, closer to downtown Ramallah than Jerusalem. Maintenance crews from Israeli utilities won't go there without a military escort, and the 25,000 Jerusalemites there have lived in a vacuum of municipal services for several years. They have made due by collecting their own garbage, building their own water system and setting up their own health services.

"This is an area without a government. There is no law. The Palestinian Authority says it is not our responsibility, and the Israelis say we can't enter because it's too dangerous," Mr. Rumeillah said. "I pay 28,000 shekels in city taxes a year and I get no services. They've never cleaned for us. They've never done anything for us."

Leading uphill to Ramallah from Israel's checkpoint at the end of the Qalandiay refugee camp, the road passing by Kufr Aqeb is notorious for wrecking the undersides of vehicles. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States is investing $2.5 million to upgrade a mile-long stretch of the main road. Work on two other sections are being underwritten by the Malaysian government and a German government loan.

The road "was a succession of potholes. There was no drainage. In some sections it was narrowed down to one lane. It was a disaster," said Howard Sumka, director of USAID in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. "It was a major bottleneck and a major annoyance to Palestinians traveling this north-south road."

Jerusalem authorities said the roadwork had been coordinated with the city. "Because of the political security sensitivities, we are working in cooperation," a municipal statement said. "The neighborhoods north of the checkpoint receive services via contractors."

Services and infrastructure for the 250,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites in neighborhoods annexed by Israel after the 1967 war lag significantly behind the conditions for the city's Jewish residents. …