In Kfar Sava’s Arab neighborhood, residents get electricity from the PA
Even though residents of the Abu Sneineh neighborhood pay city taxes, the connection between them and the central Israeli municipality is fairly nominal.
Many residents of Kfar Sava don’t even know there’s an Arab neighborhood in their city called Abu Sneineh. The neighborhood, comprising several structures where an extended clan of some 100 people live, is located near the Tomb of Benjamin at Neveh Yamin.
As we stand on the roof of the home of Ibrahim Abu Sneineh, we can see Route 6 nearby, beyond it the separation barrier and after that Qalqilyah, about 150 meters to the east. The closest point in Kfar Sava is the Menuha Nehona cemetery, about a kilometer away.
Residents of Abu Sneineh, most of whom work in sanitation and construction, vote for the Kfar Sava municipality and are meant to pay it arnona (local taxes), but the connection between the municipality and the neighborhood is fairly nominal. Parents drive their children every morning to school in the Arab town of Jaljuliya, five kilometers south. The residents get their electricity from Qalqilyah, in the West Bank.
When Ibrahim says this, I don’t believe him and demand proof, and he shows me the receipt from the Palestinian Authority. Residents say the only service they get from Kfar Sava is a weekly visit by a contractor’s garbage truck that empties the dumpster, and even that isn’t done properly, Ibrahim claims.
“I pay 13,000 shekels ($3,430) a year in arnona, but we sweep the streets ourselves,” says Ibrahim, 72, a former construction worker and father of seven. “I told Mayor [Yehuda] Ben Hamo to send us one worker to sweep a little, and I’m told ‘there’s no budget.’ It’s true that there are those here who don’t pay arnona, but that’s like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg?”
His nephew Samir, 60, is more blunt. “Ben Hamo came before the elections with his entourage and told everyone that they have to give us services like every Kfar Sava resident. Since then all we get is letters from the Bailiff’s Office and retroactive demands to pay arnona.”
Until 1948, the Abu Sneineh family lived in the village of Ijlil, at the Glilot junction, where Cinema City now stands. In 1936, Sabri Abu Sneineh, the family patriarch, bought the land that is now Abu Sneineh and built a house there. When the War of Independence began, the family fled Ijlil for Abu Sneineh. “They told residents to leave Ijlil and in a week or two they could return. They left and never went back,” says Samir. As for Cinema City, Ibrahim says, “I saw a movie there once.”
The first years in Abu Sneineh were hard, as the military government wouldn’t let them move about freely. The enclave was located in no-man’s land, only around 100 meters from the Jordanian border. For many years the enclave fell between the cracks, with no local authority interested in the little neighborhood so close to the border.
The Six-Day War gave the growing family some breathing space. “The situation improved; we could go to Tel Aviv or to Nablus,” said Ibrahim. “We stopped feeling like we were under siege.” At the time the enclave was part of Jaljulya, and to this day many family members use the health clinic and welfare offices in that town.
Fifteen years ago, the residents got the biggest blow of all: The Israel Electric Corporation strung two high-tension wires very close to the enclave. A glance at the area shows that the wires did not have to be positioned so close to the homes; in fact, if the IEC had wanted to save money and run such a major power line through the area, it could have run it through the planned industrial zone that to this day has not been built.
The residents took a lawyer and petitioned the High Court of Justice, but to no avail. “How could we prevail over the electric company?” asks Ibrahim.
The power lines’ location had serious consequences for Abu Sneineh. No homes can be built within a 150-meter radius of them and one cannot stand under the lines for more than three hours a day. Thus the enclave lost 42 dunams (10.4 acres) without being compensated. Residents say that in the years since the power lines were erected, five of them have died of cancer.
“Before the pylons, we had no cancer here. Of course every person is destined to die, but not at such high rates,” says Ibrahim. “It was a way to expropriate our land. Otherwise, why put the electricity lines here, so close to the homes? They stole from us because we are from the Arab sector.”
Samir agrees. “They thought of how to restrict and block us so that we shouldn’t expand. They gave preference to the future industrial zone over the Arabs, since it’s no tragedy if their lands are ruined… We lost 42 dunams, while each dunam in the industrial zone is worth 3 million shekels.”
According to Samir the IEC now wants to run a third high-tension line, this one even closer to the homes, and the families are trying to foil that plan in the National Planning and Building Council.
Ironically, with all the damage the IEC has done to the enclave, Abu Sneineh doesn’t get electricity from Israel because the homes don’t have occupancy permits. “I told them that we were here before there was occupancy,” said Ibrahim.
The Kfar Sava municipality said, “The Abu Sneineh neighborhood came to be in an unplanned fashion. The municipality has approved a master plan, under which building permits can be issued to homes built without permits. In addition, the municipality invested millions of shekels on an access road and fixing the sewerage infrastructure. We are vehemently against adding electricity infrastructure next to the neighborhood, and believe the state must find a more worthy alternative.”