East Jerusalemites appeal to UN for help with garbage collection

Palestinian residents of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, which is grossly lacking in municipal services, are looking elsewhere for help with garbage collection.

Mynet (Hebrew) reports that residents of Qalandia and Kfar Akab are “drowning in garbage.”  The two Palestinian neighborhoods are within the Israeli-drawn municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, but located on the West Bank side of the separation barrier. According to Mynet, Qalandia has been without municipal garbage service for eight months, resulting in an “unbearable stench” and “a plague of mice, rats, and roaches.”

In Qalandia, Mynet reports, the local committee and residents have come up with creative solutions to the problem, including ferrying the trash out in cars, a few plastic bags at a time, to West Jerusalem. Security forces, however, put a stop to this.

As is a common sight throughout East Jerusalem, where municipal services are severely lacking, Qalandia residents have taken to burning their garbage.

Out of desperation, Qalandia and Kfar Akav have turned to the United Nations for help, asking for the agency to come see the problem firsthand. Speaking to Mynet, Tarik Abdallah, the head of Qalandia’s committee, said, “Despite repeated appeals, the city is not clearing the garbage. We don’t have a choice, now we believe that the only people who will help us are the UN. They’ll send representatives and see that we live like in a third world country.”

The city claims that it collects garbage in Qalandia four times a week.

Mynet presents this as a new problem, specific to these two neighborhoods. But East Jerusalem residents have long struggled with a lack of municipal services, including inadequate garbage collection. Even though Palestinian East Jerusalemites pay taxes and constitute over one third of the city’s population, Ir Amim reports that Palestinian residents “receive only 8-10% of the municipal budget.”

B’Tselem offers the following statistics that illustrate what receiving only a sliver of the budget means for these tax-paying residents of East Jerusalem:

  • Entire Palestinian neighborhoods are not connected to a sewage system and do not have paved roads or sidewalks;
  • Almost 90 percent of the sewage pipes, roads, and sidewalks are found in West Jerusalem;
  • West Jerusalem has 1,000 public parks, East Jerusalem has 45;
  • West Jerusalem has 34 swimming pools, East Jerusalem has three;
  • West Jerusalem has 26 libraries, East Jerusalem has two;
  • West Jerusalem has 531 sports facilities, East Jerusalem has 33.

When I reported on the issue of unequal municipal services in Jerusalem for Al Jazeera English back in 2010, Nisreen Alyan, an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) took me to several hard hit areas, including Tsur Baher and Umm Tuba. Combined, these neighborhoods are home to some 15,000-20,000 residents. Only the 12 main roads had bins, leaving smaller streets without service.

Alyan, who wrote a 2009 ACRI report with the telling title “Life in the Garbage,” explained that it’s not just sanitation and public health at stake. Inadequate garbage collection makes an impact on the quality of life. Because East Jerusalem lacks parks and green spaces, children tend to play in the streets.

In Tsur Baher and Umm Tuba, the garbage in the road attracts dogs, some of which have attacked residents. So kids, too scared to go outside, have nowhere to play.

In a number of East Jerusalem neighborhoods, Palestinian residents have pooled their money together to pay for speed bumps, garbage collection, and street cleaners—services that the municipality should be providing.

ACRI has filed petitions about the lack of municipal services in East Jerusalem and reported last year that its efforts resulted in improved garbage collection in two East Jerusalem neighborhoods. But today’s Mynet article suggests that as municipal services improve in one area, they fall dramatically behind in another.