Interior Ministry office in East Jerusalem
Interior Ministry office in East Jerusalem Photo by Center for the Defence of the Individual
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The state will have until March to respond to a High Court petition challenging the physical conditions and security arrangements at an Interior Ministry office in East Jerusalem.

Justice Elyakim Rubinstein last week ordered the state to respond within two months to a petition alleging that members of the public often must wait for hours before they can enter the East Jerusalem office of the Population and Immigration Administration. According to the petition, there are no restroom facilities and no drinking fountains available outside, where the public is forced to wait. The petitioners also allege that security guards are aggressive toward members of the public.

"I work and go around the west of the city with Jews and Arabs. I have never sensed such hostile treatment as I feel at the entrance to the population office in East Jerusalem," said one of the petitioners, Majeda Al-Batash, in a court declaration.

"I think such treatment causes those coming to the office to hate the state," she added.

The Population and Immigration Administration moved to its current offices following two previous High Court petitions having to do with the conditions at its prior location. A short time later the employment bureau also moved to the new building, greatly increasing the number of people who seek services there.

The Interior Ministry issued a statement saying it is investing in ongoing efforts to improve service. The Interior Ministry added that it expects the overcrowding will be relieved when automatic identification stations that are part of the employment bureau are removed from the building.

The current petition was filed by the Moked Center for the Defense of the Individual on behalf of several East Jerusalem residents. The population office, which is located in the Wadi Joz neighborhood, has been open since 2006. East Jerusalem is home to almost all of the city's Arab residents.

Most Arab residents of East Jerusalem have opted not to become Israeli citizens, and the petitioners say Arab East Jerusalemites use the services of the Population and Immigration Administration more frequently than Israeli citizens do. They say they often need to obtain transit documents for travel abroad, renew their identity cards, register their children, and submit proof that they remain Jerusalem residents.

One of the petitioners said she was forced on one occasion to wait for service at the office for seven hours. Yet the major complaint has to do with the wait outside, where visitors are forced to remain until they undergo a security inspection.