Rain Floods Palestinian Jerusalem Neighborhood. Again

'Until someone dies, they won’t do anything,' says resident of Kafr Aqab, which is cut off from the rest of the city because it falls on the West Bank side of the Israeli separation barrier

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A flooded street in Kafr Aqab on Sunday
A flooded street in Kafr Aqab on SundayCredit: Emil Salman
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

After every exceptionally heavy rainfall, East Jerusalem suffers from serious drainage problems and flooding. But the worst hit of all is Kafr Aqab, a neighborhood in northern Jerusalem.

Although within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, it’s on the West Bank side of the separation barrier. Like other Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the barrier, Kafr Aqab is overcrowded, because thousands of homes have been built there without permits or planning. In addition, infrastructure in all these neighborhoods has been neglected by the Jerusalem municipality and other Israeli authorities.

On Saturday night, the Jerusalem region experienced heavy rainfall within a few hours. By early Sunday morning, the low-lying streets of Aqab’s Al-Matar section began to flood. It lies next to the separation barrier and just across from Jerusalem’s abandoned Atarot airport.

Dozens of homes and cars were flooded. In one underground parking garage, 10 cars vanished under some three meters (10 feet) of water. In the streets, the water came up to cars’ steering wheels.

And inside some homes, the water reached a height of a meter, causing serious property damage and power outages. What made matters worse was that the rainwater flowing through the streets was mixed with sewage and garbage, creating a serious pollution problem.

The Jerusalem municipality has promised that the problem will be fixed by next winter. It acknowledged that the drainage problems in Kafr Aqab have gone unaddressed for many years.

“For the past three years, the municipality, via the Hagihon [regional water] company, has been working to plan a thorough, large-scale solution to the neighborhood’s drainage and sewage problem. Construction work to resolve the issue began in the area a month ago and will end in about another half year, before next winter,” it said.

Kafr Aqab residents point to several reasons for the flooding. First, they charged, the separation barrier obstructs the flow of water out of the neighborhood, causing it to accumulate in nearby streets. The barrier is equipped with a drainage channel, but it’s too small to cope with heavy rainfall.

Another problem, they said, is posed by the West Bank Palestinian town of El Bireh, near Ramallah, which has its own drainage problems and has been diverting water toward Kafr Aqab. 

A flooded parking lot in Kafr Aqab on SundayCredit: Emil Salman

And then there is the issue of massive illegal construction. Kafr Aqab used to consist largely of fields and orchards that absorbed the rain. But after the separation barrier was built, Jerusalem’s municipal inspectors stopped supervising construction in the neighborhoods beyond it.

As a result, Palestinian developers began illegally constructing 12 to 16-story buildings with thousands of apartments, which they have sold for much less than comparable apartments in East Jerusalem neighborhoods on the Israeli side of the barrier. The low prices, combined with East Jerusalem’s severe housing shortage, created heavy demand.

In some instances, the construction did damage to existing drainage infrastructure. It also significantly reduced the neighborhood’s open areas that could absorb water.

“Last year I lost a car – a total loss,” said Moatasem Arouri, a neighborhood resident. “I put money into a new car ... and now it has also been flooded. The car’s computer is gone. I spoke with the garage. We’ll see tomorrow what will happen. Every year, they tell us they’ll do something that will fix the problem,” he added. “But every year, they do nothing.”

“Since 2017, this has happened maybe 10 times already,” said Nasser Salaimeh, a developer who built one of the buildings that flooded on Sunday.

“But until someone dies, they won’t do anything. They won’t issue construction permits in this area, and then they tell you that if you don’t have a permit for your home, they won’t deal with it,” he said. “But you have to protect people’s lives and property.”

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