For East Jerusalem Palestinians, Taking Out the Trash Is More Than a Chore

Despite municipality's claim that garbage pickup is frequent, the garbage piles up in East Jerusalem.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The people who live in Qalandiyah and Kfar Akeb, who are residents of Jerusalem but on the other side of the security fence, sometimes have to walk many kilometers to throw out their household garbage on the other side of the Qalandiyah checkpoint. Despite the municipality's statement that cleanup projects and garbage pickup are plentiful in the neighborhoods, which are home to tens of thousands of people, the garge piles up.

One solution residents have hit on is to throw it out on the Israeli side of the Qalandiyah checkpoint. However, as one resident, Ahmad Sub Laban, discovered, this is sometimes easier said than done.

Ahmad Sub Laban near the Qalandiyah checkpoint.Credit: Emil Salman

Sub Laban is a senior member of the staff of Ir Amim, an NGO operating out of downtown West Jerusalem. On Sunday he was on his way to work with his wife and 5-year-old son.

"When the garbage cans are full near home, I take the garbage to Jerusalem. Wherever my first appointment is, that's where I throw it out. Sometimes even on King George Street," he said.

But this time, the police at the checkpoint refused to let him through because of the garbage bag. "One of the policemen said he wasn't willing to check the garbage. He got mad and said, 'what do you think, that I'm garbage?'" The police insisted that Sub Laban go back to Qalandiyah and throw out the garbage, but because of the structure of the checkpoint, Sub Laban had to drive across it and make a U-turn in the checkpoint square - where there is a garbage can but Sub Laban was not allowed to throw his bag in there, because it was on the Israeli side of the checkpoint - and cross back into Qalandiyah. Then, after throwing out the garbage, he could rejoin the line of people waiting to enter Israel.

Sub Laban refused. "I explained to them that I had been waiting more than 20 minutes in line and had gone through the security check, and I was not going back. The policeman's reply was that I would not get my identity card back. And so we waited. Nobody cared. As if there wasn't a little boy in the car.

Finally, after exhausting negotiations, the policeman agreed that Sub Laban could walk back to Qalandiyah and throw out the garbage, while his wife and son waited in the car at the checkpoint.

On his way back across the checkpoint to Qalandiyah, the policeman said he could walk among the soldiers with his bag of garbage.

"I threw out the garbage on the other side and ran back. But meanwhile the checkpoint closed down because they had started to clean. I waited another 20 minutes for them to open. The worst thing was that when I came back I saw that my son had to urinate in a cup because he was afraid to get out of the car. He asked my wife if the policemen were going to kill daddy."

The family spent an hour and a half at the checkpoint.

"I could have bowed my head and said alright, or argued and demanded my rights," Sub Laban said. "But I have rights, to be a human being who does not pollute his environment ... The only thing that bothers me is that I don't know what will take the fear out of my son's head."

Israel Defense Forces officials said there is no directive prohibiting garbage from being brought across the checkpoint.

The IDF Spokesman's Office directed the inquiry to the Jerusalem municipality, which responded: "In the neighborhoods of Qalandiyah and Kfar Akeb, garbage is collected four times a week. The city conducted a number of cleanup campaigns a few months ago and added garbage bins, and is studying ways to improve the current situation. With regard to passage through the checkpoints, the issue is the sole responsibility of the security forces."



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