Garbage and Poverty: Watchdog Blasts Israel's Services to Arab East Jerusalem

The authorities say they're striving to catch up, but a special report puts a damper on the day when Israelis celebrate the city's unification

Garbage piling up in Jerusalem during a strike by municipal employees, January 2018.
Emil Salman

The state comptroller has harshly criticized the Israeli and Jerusalem authorities for their treatment of the city’s Arab residents, including deficient social services and educational opportunities, neglected sanitation and high poverty rates.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira presents a very gloomy picture of the situation of the city’s Palestinian residents, who make up almost 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population. He also notes that there are still breaches in the separation barrier.

The special report was released Sunday, Jerusalem Day, which marks the reunification of the city after Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.

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Shapira examined the efforts of the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority. “The service provided by the Population Authority to the residents of East Jerusalem is far inferior to that given to the citizens in the rest of the country; there is a suspicion that the authority has not made a sufficient effort to provide efficient and realistic service to the residents of East Jerusalem,” Shapira says in the report.

He also examined the issue of citizenship. In recent years, many East Jerusalem residents have requested Israeli citizenship, but the Population Authority has not done enough to reduce the waiting times for handling requests, Shapira says.

“A period of two and a half years just for submitting a request for citizenship is exceptional in its strictness and completely unreasonable,” he writes, adding that the interior minister and the rest of the government have not set a policy on the legal status of East Jerusalem residents, who therefore are forced to turn to the courts, which have in effect shaped policy.

According to the report, the Population Authority has lacked transparency, not provided online services in Arabic, not designed procedures for quick receipt of citizenship for young people, and failed to shorten the long waiting times for receiving an appointment for registration services. The authority’s efforts are likely “to be interpreted by residents of East Jerusalem as a policy designed to make it difficult for them to receive citizenship status.”

The report criticizes the National Insurance Institute’s system for examining the eligibility of East Jerusalem residents for allowances.

Palestinians wait at the employment center in Wadi Joz, February 2018
Emil Salman

The NII replied that it has “adopted the report’s findings and has already instituted some of them. For example, information and criteria regarding residency have been posted on the website, and we have begun a process that will lead to a shortening of the time required for handling residents’ requests.”

The Population Authority said that “the deficiencies described in the report have been brought to our attention, and the vast majority have been corrected in the past two years. The authority’s current director general has given top priority to improving service at the East Jerusalem office and handling shortcomings. During this period, steps have been taken to improve service at the office, including a plan to reduce the delay in handling citizenship requests, and stressing the hiring of Arabic-speaking employees.”

Breaches in the separation barrier

The comptroller examined issues surrounding the separation barrier and the crossings between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Regarding the barrier, the comptroller notes that already in 2005 the government said it “considers the immediate completion of the security barrier in the Jerusalem area of importance.” But today, Shapira says, there are three large breaches in the barrier at the city. One of them was used by the Palestinian man who murdered Israeli teenager Ori Ansbacher in February.

Shapira also says the Jerusalem police refuse to follow the instructions of the Shin Bet security service regarding inspections at checkpoints into the city, even though these instructions have been approved by the political leaders.

Shapira also criticizes the government and the National Security Council for not having handed over control of the crossings between the West Bank and Jerusalem to civilians from the police.

The army’s spokesman’s office replied: “The army welcomes the criticism and will soon correct the deficiencies,” adding that most of the problems were “being addressed.” It said that “already during the course of the criticism, the army has studied the main points, and most of the deficiencies have already been dealt with or are in the process.”

Dirty streets

The comptroller harshly criticizes the Jerusalem municipality for its handling of the city’s sanitation. Despite numerous declarations by mayors and the sharp increase in the sanitation budget, the city is still very dirty. Public opinion polls also note that Jerusalemites are most dissatisfied with the garbage issue.

The separation barrier passes through a Jerusalem neighborhood, July 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The state comptroller hired an investigator who walked through the city, counted the items of garbage and compared the situation to Tel Aviv and Haifa. It turned out that 12.5 percent of the streets are very dirty; they contain more than 50 items of garbage for every 100 meters (328 feet).

The report notes disparities in the municipality’s handling of East Jerusalem compared to West Jerusalem. For example, even though 37 percent of Jerusalemites live in the east, they receive 10 percent of the work of sanitation employees, 7 percent of the dumpsters, and 6 percent of the garbage disposal routes.

“The inspection team patrolled in February 2018 in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Isawiyah, Silwan, Abu Tor, A-Tur and Beit Hanina and found that a great deal of garbage is scattered along the roads,” the report says. “Dumpsters are overflowing and mounds of garbage accumulate in the streets and on the sides of roads, and cause a stench.”

The situation is even worse in the neighborhoods on the far side of the separation barrier, where according to the comptroller, the municipality allocates “minuscule” sums for sanitation. These neighborhoods have also been eliminated from the Environmental Protection Ministry’s program to improve the sanitation situation in East Jerusalem.

“The criticism reveals a gloomy and very tough picture of the municipality’s deficient handling of the sanitation situation – in waste disposal, the number of dumpsters and the cleaning of streets in the Arab neighborhoods, mainly in those beyond the separation barrier,” the report states.

High disparities in poverty rates

In 2016, about 75 percent of East Jerusalemites lived below the poverty line, compared with 29 percent of the Jews and 52 percent of the Arabs in the rest of the country. In East Jerusalem, 81 percent of the children lived in poverty.

Shapira says the state and the municipality have failed to fulfill the obligation to provide free education in East Jerusalem, due to a shortage of classrooms. There is a shortage of more than 2,000 classrooms, twice the number that were lacking a decade ago.

About 23,000 Palestinian children 3 to 18 are not registered in any recognized educational framework, and thus do not exist as far as the school system is concerned. Also, one in four children in East Jerusalem drops out of school between ninth and 12th grade.

There is also criticism of the paucity of Hebrew lessons in the East Jerusalem schools. The government has provided decent budgets in recent years for Hebrew studies, but the money has not been designated for schools that teach the Palestinian curriculum. The result is that graduates cannot get jobs or go to college or university. Also, the level of the teachers’ Hebrew itself is not high.

There have also been many deficiencies in the handling of at-risk children by the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry and the municipality. The problem is especially serious in the neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier such as the Shoafat refugee camp and Kafr Aqab. The police have little ability to enforce the law, particularly in cases of domestic violence.

“Even if the authorities receive a report about a child (up to age 18) in immediate danger, such as one suffering from physical or sexual violence at home, there is no guarantee that the authorities will reach him and take care of him within a reasonable amount of time,” the comptroller says.

Social workers are also prevented from reaching at-risk children who live beyond the barrier, even if there is an order to remove a child from home. There is also a shortage of social workers, a shortage of welfare agencies and a lack of money for handling East Jerusalem’s social welfare problems.

Planning done piecemeal

The comptroller said the municipality was unable to finish drawing up a list of buildings slated for preservation, even though the project began in 1966. “Therefore, even after 53 years, the Jerusalem municipality is able to publish only ‘a list in the making,’” the comptroller says.

There were similar complaints about Jerusalem in a 2005 report. The municipality has two lists of monuments that include 155 buildings. Another 1,100 buildings have been slated for preservation, out of thousands considered worth preserving.

The report adds that “the planning arrangement in Jerusalem is done piecemeal and does not reflect a coordinated perspective regarding the preservation of buildings and sites in the city.” An example of a lack of coordination is the demolition of a historical fence and magnificent gate columns on Jaffa Road, where the J Tower residential project is today.

The Jerusalem municipality replied: “The report deals with previous years, and since then there have been many positive changes, with an emphasis on the cleanliness of the city.

The Jerusalem municipality said it is “studying the report in depth, reaching conclusions – some of which have already been implemented – and will continue to implement them as far as possible.”