The state has told the High Court of Justice that Palestinians from East Jerusalem can now be served at the Employment Service bureaus in the western part of the city. The submission late last week came in response to a petition filed by residents of East Jerusalem and human rights organizations.
According to the state, all the bureaus in western Jerusalem have been informed of the change. However, the response made it clear that clients whose files were opened in East Jerusalem must continue to obtain services in that bureau and only new applicants can apply to the bureaus in west Jerusalem.
For many years applicants at the Employment Service bureau in East Jerusalem have complained of harsh conditions, long queues and humiliating treatment by security guards and clerks. Most of the problems occur at the entrance to the building that the Employment Service and Interior Ministry share in Wadi Joz, in the city’s eastern part. Those seeking services from either office were required to wait long hours in the heat or cold without shelter, and sometimes were turned away without being served.
A year and a half ago, four Palestinians from East Jerusalem, two lawyers, the Ma’an workers organization and HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual filed a petition demanding that conditions be improved at the employment bureau. A few days ago the state, in a response submitted by attorney Abir Joubran-Dakwar, said East Jerusalemites could now be served in the western part of the city.
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This decision follows one by the Interior Ministry a month and a half ago to allow Palestinians from East Jerusalem to receive some of the services provided by the Population Bureau at the bureau’s offices in the city’s western part. These decisions end the rigid separation that existed in the provision of government services to Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem. Before this, Palestinians seeking service in western Jerusalem were refused and referred to the East Jerusalem bureaus.
“In the coming months, the respondents will examine the effect of the directive on the [employment] bureaus’ functioning and the quality of the service provided by them so the resources can be matched to the expected increase in the number of applicants,” the state prosecution wrote. The state also said that awnings have been installed at the entrance to the East Jerusalem employment bureau for the benefit of those in line.
Ma’an welcomed the announcement but said the decision to allow access to western Jerusalem only to new applicants was made without giving a satisfactory explanation. “To immediately reduce the inhuman queue at the Wadi Joz office, we demand that the bureau initiate the transfer of job applicants to the office on Jaffa Road in the western part of the city, and to assign Arabic-speaking clerks there,” the organization said in a statement.
The pressure on the bureaus in Wadi Joz stems from the fact that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem tend to need the Interior Ministry’s services more often than Israeli citizens do. For example, while an Israeli citizen needs to renew a passport only once in 10 years, an East Jerusalem resident must renew his laissez-passer every two to five years.
Moreover, for East Jerusalem Palestinians, registration in the Population Registry is critical because they are required to prove that their “center of life” is indeed in East Jerusalem. Otherwise they may lose their residency status or their right to state allowances. Therefore, routine acts like registering a child in one’s identity card or changing an address become more urgent.