Opinion |

This Time of Year, East Jerusalem Becomes Venice Without Boats

Sahar Khader
Sahar Khader
Residents cross a flooded street in Kafr Aqab on Sunday.
Residents cross a flooded street in Kafr Aqab on Sunday.Credit: Emil Salman
Sahar Khader
Sahar Khader

Every winter, it’s the same nightmare: Kafr Aqab, where I live, on the other side of the separation barrier in Jerusalem, is flooded. Really flooded. But not the way it looks in the news from other places; it’s up to the roofs of the cars. It’s impossible to leave the house. I have to get to the doctor, and I have no idea how I’ll do it. And what’s left except for humor? So instead of blaming the Israeli or the Palestinian side, neither of which cares about us, I simply blame myself for failing once again this year to buy a boat.

Of course, the winter isn’t the only problem in Kafr Aqab. The neighborhood’s residents are Jerusalemites for all intents and purposes, holding ID cards, but it is located on the other side of the barrier, in a no-man’s-land between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The neighborhood suffers from serious neglect: intermittent drainage problems, electricity and water stoppages, and streets without sidewalks, traffic lights, bus stops or pedestrian crossings.

To me, the lawlessness symbolizes life here most of all. Everyone does what he feels like. Guests firing guns randomly at weddings, minors bearing weapons, and even people parking in the middle of the road. Calling the police is a waste of time. Nobody will come, and nothing will change.

Girls walk past a semitrailer under water in Kafr Aqab on Sunday.Credit: Emil Salman

But the hardest thing is the necessity to cross via the Qalandiya checkpoint every time we leave the village for other parts of Jerusalem. Every time I think about leaving the village, I have to take the problems involved into account.

Israelis are already familiar with the stories about the checkpoints, but for me it’s part of everyday life. For example, whenever I have to get to a doctor in Jerusalem, or just visit my husband’s parents in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood, I have to plan and calculate hours ahead of time.

When you live like that, you only hope the soldiers won’t close one of the checkpoint lanes. Nobody dares to ask “why,” because everyone wants to get through quietly, without problems. When I get to the inspection they check my Israeli ID card and my car trunk. And then, for an unknown reason, another checkpoint and another wait. My young daughters are nagging me from the back seat about when we’ll arrive, and inwardly I curse the traffic jam, the soldiers, the occupation and life. When you finally reach your destination – it’s always in a state of anger and fatigue.

Flooding in Kafr Aqab on Sunday.Credit: Emil Salman

Sometimes I prefer to take a bus; at least it has a special lane at the checkpoint, and I can use the time for reading. The problem is that you never know when it will come, and it can also be delayed for a long time at the checkpoint. A shared taxi, which costs 2 to 3 shekels (less than $1), is the most common means of travel here. It won’t take you through the checkpoint, because its license plate is Palestinian, but at least it comes every minute.

In order to cross the checkpoint after leaving the taxi, you have to use a pedestrian crossing, which is indescribably crowded at peak hours. The soldiers let five people cross at a time. If one of them is delayed, we’re all screwed. Another option is to walk alongside the vehicle lane, and to signal the drivers in the hope that one of them will agree to take you. Most of them won’t, for fear you don’t have an ID or an entry permit, and they’ll get into trouble.

After the checkpoint, you have to look for a bus stop. Some people leave their car there regularly. Another option for getting out of Kafr Aqab is via the Qalandiya refugee camp, on an unpaved road that’s not always open. Plus, the car always breaks down when you drive on it.

Uncollected garbage in Kafr Aqab, 2012.Credit: Emil Salman

The way back is just as difficult. You have to deal with the same traffic jams and lines, unless the soldiers take pity and open the electric gate leading to A-Ram. Sometimes, I return via the Al-Jib checkpoint near Givat Ze’ev, which is open only to those leaving the territories. However, it’s far and forces me to pass through the villages around Ramallah.

I’m tired of saying “There’s nothing to be done.” I want to feel equal to other Jerusalem residents, to receive the rights to which everyone is entitled. But meanwhile, I’ll imagine this winter, too, that a boat will take me to the doctor in Jerusalem.

Sahar Khader is a student of Hebrew literature at the Open University and a mother of three girls who lives in Kafr Aqab. She is part of the “Haaretz 21” initiative to promote voices and stories from Arab society in Israel.

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