Kafr Aqab is a Jerusalem neighborhood of approximately 20,000 Palestinians, wedged into the northernmost corner of the City. Since the start of the Al Aqsa Intifada, Kafr Aqab residents have been cut off from the body of Jerusalem by the Kalandia checkpoint. About a year ago, the Separation Barrier was constructed, severing Kafr Aqab from the rest of Jerusalem; although Kafr Aqab residents maintain their status as Jerusalemites, and the City continues to be responsible for municipal services there.
Thus, the previous pitiful level of municipal services has fallen to an even lower level. In addition, schoolchildren, who used to walk across the street to school, now have to wait in line at the most congested checkpoint in the Jerusalem area: Kalandia. In times of closure of the West Bank, children are denied access to their schools. Finally, people are separated from medical services, places of employment and critical welfare services.
The not-for-profit Kafr Aqab Development Company was established in August 2004. The leadership of the association went through a consultation process with the existing leadership, in order to ensure that they would be part of the new initiative, and not compete with it. The Development Company has identified the following issues for the coming year:
So far, Ir Amim has worked with the association on easing conditions at the Kalandia Checkpoint. This has included a Supreme Court case (filed before the formal establishment of the Development Company) and the creation of facilities that will allow for the efficient and dignified movement of people’s goods and services through the checkpoint. Four fifths of the neighborhood’s students must go to the checkpoint to get to school, because of a shortage of hundreds of classrooms in the neighborhood.
The Development Company’s activists had been engaged during the 2006-2007 school year, with Ir Amim’s direct assistance, in a Sisyphean effort to compel the Municipality to rent a building for the purposes of opening a new school. In September 2007 these efforts succeeded – within weeks several hundred Kafr Aqab students were able to go to a newly opened school in the neighborhood, without having to wait for hours at the checkpoint. The residents are now working with Ir Amim in developing additional advocacy efforts – from mobilizing public opinion, to legal action.