East Jerusalem's cheap housing in 'no man's land'

A new apartment in the Ras Khamis neighborhood of East Jerusalem costs just under $29,000, but a brief tour of the neighborhood indicates that lack of services is at the root of the low prices.

al-monitor Palestinians walk past a section of Israel's separation barrier in the Ras Khamis neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Nov.12, 2013. Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images.

Topics covered

israel, infrastructure, housing prices, housing market, east jerusalem, arabs

Jun 16, 2014

Standing at the edge of Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood and looking out over the Ma'aleh Adumim road, one can notice a long line of white, stone-covered apartment buildings. These are the residential buildings of the Arab neighborhoods of Ras Khamis, Ras Shihadeh and the Peace Neighborhood [D'hiyat al Salaam], bordering on the Shuafat refugee camp. Even when getting a bit closer, these neighborhoods still give the impression of well-tended residential quarters: Ten-story buildings or even higher, complete with penthouses and rounded balconies, of the same kind found in the new neighborhoods in [the central Israeli cities of] Rishon Lezion or Petah Tikva.

It turns out, however, that the apartments in these Arab neighborhoods sell for absurdly low prices, to say the least. Thus, a spacious apartment of 120 square meters [roughly 1,300 square feet] is offered on the market for 80,000 to 100,000 shekels [just over $23,000 to just under $29,000] — with the flooring, kitchen and bathroom all included in the bargain. You can pay the building contractor (usually, a Hebron resident) half the price in cash, and the rest in installments at a low-interest rate. And for another 20,000 shekels [close to $5,800], you can buy a private parking space under the building. On the face of it, it seems as if the East Jerusalem Arabs have solved the problem of exorbitant housing costs [afflicting Israel]. Yet, a second, closer look at the situation reveals a far more complex picture.

The infrastructure left outside the separation wall

The absurdly low [housing] prices may be attributed in part to the problematic location of these neighborhoods. On the one hand, the said neighborhoods are included in the Jerusalem municipal area, and many of their inhabitants have full Israeli citizenship. But on the other hand, these neighborhoods are enclosed by the separation wall, so that to get out and cross over to Israel, their residents have to pass through a checkpoint. What’s more, there is virtually no infrastructure in these neighborhoods. Nor is there any rule of law and order. It’s a no man's land. On the other side of the checkpoint, even in the Arab neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shuafat, housing prices are on the order asked for in Israel. Here, apartments can be bought for next to nothing.

Once you pass the checkpoint and enter the area of multistory residential buildings, you cannot miss the massive building boom. Alas, building in these neighborhoods is dense and disorderly, and it is done without permits. The streets are, for the most part, no more than narrow and crooked alleys, and only some of them are paved. There are no sidewalks, and driving along the roads, maneuvering over the pits, trying to dodge the children running around and the stalls illegally set up, is a risky business. The streets are filled with dirt, and there are piles of garbage lying around.

The elevators are running, but the mail does not arrive

The contrast does not stop here. While the houses are connected to the electricity supply grid and the elevators in the buildings are operating properly, water supply is disrupted; and there is no mail delivery and no landline infrastructure either. There is no police station in these neighborhoods, and street gangs run rampant at night. “Gun shooting is an everyday matter here, just as in the Syrian war,” says Jamil Zandoka, who is on the local neighborhood committee. Zandoka further says that no one knows to what extent the apartments are safe for living in, and whether the foundations and pillars have been properly constructed.

Vehicles and vendors from the West Bank freely enter these neighborhoods, offering their merchandise — primarily vegetables, kitchen utensils and the like. The same as housing prices in these neighborhoods, life here is very cheap. Touring the area, it becomes quite clear why.

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