Refugee Camp Near Jerusalem Becomes­ a Haven for Drug Dealers

Jerusalem Magistrate's Court indicts two men from the Shoafat refugee camp for dealing drugs to minor girls, sometimes in exchange for sex, and of using violence against the girls.

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court indicted two men two weeks ago from the greater Jerusalem area on charges of drug dealing. Among the charges against Mohammed Abu-Nagma of the Shoafat refugee camp and Asher Abuksis of Mevasseret Zion are dealing drugs to minor girls, sometimes in exchange for sex, and of using violence against the girls.

Both suspects have denied the charges. But Moaz Zat'ari, head of Al-Maqdese, an East Jerusalem group that fights drug addition and other social problems, says he is not surprised one of the suspects is from the Shoafat refugee camp. Zat'ari says the camp, which is within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, has become the main drug supplier for users in and around the capital.

Jamal Sanduka, Shoafat refugee camp
Tomer Appelbaum

"You can see people going around with weapons and selling drugs as if it were nothing," Zat'ari said.

One main reason for this situation, he says, is the separation fence, which a few years ago was built all around Shoafat. At the front and only entrance to the camp is an Israel Defense Forces checkpoint, but the back is a convenient area to bring in infiltrators from the territories. From there, the road into Israel is an easy one.

Residents of Shoafat say that since the fence was put up, police presence in the camp has declined dramatically. Jamil Sanduka, head of the camp residents' committee, says Magen David Adom ambulance teams and firefighters avoid entering the camp without a police escort, which sometimes costs human lives.

"A year and a half ago, two children of one of the families here in the camp burned to death because firefighters were waiting for an escort at the checkpoint."

According to a senior local police official, there is police presence in Shoafat, but it is undercover. "From the beginning of the year the minorities branch conducted 14 actions to catch drug and arms dealers in Shoafat alone," he said.

The police concede that working in Shoafat is especially difficult, and that is the reason it is under cover. "Once we drove into Shoafat to protect a Magen David Adom ambulance that went to save a life, to help the residents. We got stones thrown at us. Four patrol cars were smashed to bits," he said.

Most of the drugs reach Israel through the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries, going through the desert south of the Dead Sea, and from there to the "back door" of Shoafat.

Arms are also coming in. "We've recently been seeing dealers selling automatic weapons. They get them in Nablus and bring them here. They cost NIS 3,000 a piece ... I've seen kids using them," Sanduka says.

A senior Jerusalem police official said it is difficult to overcome the arms and drug dealers because "the customers and the sellers both have an interest in thwarting us," although he says efforts are ongoing to dry up the market.

But Sanduka is skeptical. The best example is a large building to which he gestures at the entrance to the camp, some 30 meters from the IDF checkpoint. "That used to be a Coca Cola plant," he says. "Addicts are around here all the time."

About six weeks ago the body of an addict was found there, a member of the Abu Nijma family, prominent in the camp. Two months before, the body of another addict, from Jaffa, was found there.

"Most of the hard cases of addiction in East Jerusalem are from Shoafat," Zat'ari says. "They sell drugs there from cars, on the road. They have no shame."

The Jerusalem police said its responsibility is strategic, while it is up to the local leadership in the camp to stop illegal residents from coming in.