For the first time since 2007, snow covered the ground in the western and southern West Bank cities last week, as Palestinians capitalized on the two days by building snowmen and engaging in snowball fights. Photos showed that the Palestinian Authority security forces were not immune to the contagious jovial atmosphere, as they too enjoyed the snow.
The days before that witnessed heavy rains, in the first winter spell of the year. The northern cities of Jenin and Tulkarem were subject to severe flooding, as main roads were rendered unusable because of the rising water. Valleys, blocked by debris, overflowed and caused heavy damage to nearby Palestinian homes.
Sabah Abu Rmeileh’s house in the Jaroushiya area of Tulkarem was one of the most seriously affected. As a mother of five, she lamented how all her children were moved by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to strangers’ homes for suitable shelter, since their home was badly damaged.
“There was water everywhere,” Sabah recounts. “Everything inside got ruined, everything. The furniture is all broken, there are no clothes or mattresses left, and none of our electrical appliances work. We also lost five sheep out of 10.”
Sabah and husband Abu Mohammad now live on the second floor of their house, an unfinished concrete room with no windows. The Tulkarem Municipality nailed nylon sheets on the windows, and the Red Crescent donated mattresses to them, but the nights are still cold and the first floor remains unlivable.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad visited the Abu Rmeileh family, and promised to pay for the renovation of their house starting from Saturday [Jan. 12] but nothing has come out of that.
“All we keep hearing are promises,” Sabah said. “Fayyad promised us, the Tulkarem governor promised us, the Red Crescent promised us … they are simply not putting their money where their mouths are. How can anyone accept to live like this? It’s been ten days now, and my teenage daughters are staying at other peoples’ homes. This is unbearable.”
While officials seem content with paying lip service to the people who were affected by the rain, a small youth led initiative popped up in Ramallah with the purpose of providing aid and assistance to the very same people.
Mohammed Mbayed, one of the minds behind the project (called Qawarib, or Boats) said that after advertising it on Facebook, other youth throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip took the lead in forming their own groups to help their respective communities.
“The hardest hit areas were the northern areas in the West Bank like Qalqilya, Tulkarem, and parts of the Jordan Valley,” Mbayed said. “Most of the people were suffering from lack of basic provisions, like blankets and clothes and coverings.”
“After we made an event on Facebook, people from all over the West Bank started sending us supplies. We were only the link between those who wanted to help and those who needed help.”
The real question however, is why such flooding on main roads happened in the first place. Lana Abu-Hijleh, the director of CHF’s implementation of infrastructure programs, concedes that urban planning and infrastructure is tied to which country can deliver donor aid the fastest.
“That’s why we see how a new street is paved, and then a month later torn up again for work to be done on the underground water and sewage networks,” she explained. “To be frank, our storm water systems and sewage are not developed at all for a developing country like ours. We need to uproot the entire roads system and start from scratch, but as long as the road infrastructure is tied to whoever can fund it first from the international community, then we don’t have that option.”
The PA’s biggest funder is USAid, which boasts itself as the “leading provider of bilateral development assistance to the Palestinians.” Since 1994 until now, it has spent almost 4 billion US dollars in different sectors of the PA government, from healthcare to education to sanitation systems.
Jonathan Cook wrote in an article back in 2010 that in the last decade, USAid financed over 300 km of roads in the West Bank, and while much has been said of these alternative circuitous roads designed to ensure the connectivity of settlements in the West Bank to the rest of Israel, with Palestinian roads usually upgraded from dirt tracks or built as underpasses from highways that Israelis use in order to entrench apartheid in this form as a two tiered road structure, infrastructure wise a tight lid is kept on the subject matter.
The International Relief and Development, another USAid branch responsible for building main roads for Palestinian use throughout the West Bank, declined to comment.
“The Palestinian Authority ministries and municipalities are to blame,” concluded Sabah Abu Rmeileh. “Every year before the winter season valleys should be cleaned so debris won’t block them. It is unbelievable that they allow roads to be built that transform into a big pool whenever it rains.”
Linah Alsaafin is a writer and editor based in the West Bank.