Nazareth, the venue for Arabs to integrate into Israeli technology. Photo by Abdullah Shamah
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A car believed to contain gas canisters was torched at the entrance to Social Affairs Ministry offices in Nazareth this week - in what ministry employees claim is an ongoing dispute between criminals and the rented building's owner.

Ministry employees have refused to work in the building since October 2010, claiming there have been several shooting incidents and explosive devices at the site over the past two years because of the dispute.

Northern District Police confirmed the details of this week's incident, and said that about two years ago the building was damaged by explosives. Police added that the events are being investigated.

As a result, hundreds of residents in the Nazareth area and the villages of the Upper Galilee are forced to travel further afield, to Afula and other places, for welfare services.

One social worker said that, in another incident, a bullet was fired at her room in the building, whistled above her head and almost hit her. "We aren't willing to work in such an atmosphere," she said. "We asked the Social Affairs Ministry to find an alternative place but were not offered a suitable solution."

Other welfare workers were angry that the ministry signed a 10-year lease on the building that cannot be broken.

"The only issue that interests the ministry is money, as though the lives and safety of the employees and the clients is of no importance," said a parole officer who worked there. "We don't know when this conflict will end and how the police are dealing with it, and therefore we aren't willing to endanger ourselves."

The ministry responded that a temporary solution has been found in the wake of the incidents - transferring the employees to offices in several buildings in Afula. "The ministry has turned to the accountant general to receive his approval for leasing another building in Nazareth, for the benefit of the social workers, but the accountant has yet to approve it," the ministry said.

One social worker told Haaretz that the welfare offices in Afula do not provide a proper solution to the problem. "Sometimes we look for a room that is not in use, and sometimes we have to receive people in the corridor," he said.

He said that youth investigators and parole officials sometimes ask other regional authorities to set aside a room for them in their welfare offices. In some instances they are forced to travel to Haifa or Acre, as are their clients.