Jerusalem’s 'Clean Revolution' Is Ignoring East Jerusalem

As part of a major push to change garbage collection in the city, services were privatized, sidelining municipal employees and forcing contractors to move workers from the Old City to Jewish neighborhoods

Garbage is strew along an embankment in a Palestinian area of east Jerusalem, July 12, 2018.
Mahmoud Illean/AP

Two months before the municipal elections, Jerusalem city hall launched a major change in how it cleans up the eastern part of the capital. But as of now, three weeks after it began, most of the budget for the “clean revolution” seems to be going mostly to the neighborhoods in the western, Jewish part of the city.

On Jerusalem Day in May, the cabinet passed a number of resolutions intended to provide greater support for Israel’s capital. One of the issues involved was improving the cleanliness of the public spaces in East Jerusalem. To do so, the cabinet allocated 31 million shekels ($8.7 million) over the next three years and the city will add another four million shekels.

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Most of this money is expected to go to the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry. Both ministries are headed by Zeev Elkin, who is also running for mayor of Jerusalem.

The “sanitation revolution” in East Jerusalem was launched at the beginning of August and went in to full effect three weeks ago. As part of the changes, all the garbage collection services and street sweeping in East Jerusalem were privatized and the work was transferred for municipal employees to an outside contractor. 

As part of the agreement between the city and the Histadrut labor federation, all the municipal sanitation workers in the predominantly Arab eastern part of the city, about 100 in number, were transferred to work in the western neighborhoods of the capital, so the residents of these mostly Jewish neighborhoods are benefitting from what the Mayor Nir Barkat called “the largest sanitation revolution ever in all parts of Jerusalem.”   

The privatization was done through the government-owned firm East Jerusalem Development Ltd. The company has hired a contractor to carry out the work and who has been collecting the garbage in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem since September 1. The project is being carried out by the city in conjunction with the Environmental Affairs, Jerusalem Affairs and Finance ministries,

But since then, the sanitation problems in that part of the city have only gotten worse and dozens of residents have complained about huge piles of uncollected garbage scattered all over. Social networks have been flooded with such complaints and pictures of the overflowing garbage – and the city has admitted that the contractor has yet to fully carry out his job and is still learning.

>> Read more: Garbage in the Streets: The Mayor Promised a 'Clean Revolution,' but East Jerusalem Is Filthier Than Ever

An official in city hall involved in the matter said that the newly hired contractor began working without any period of overlap and training with city, and with too few workers – who were also not experienced. The official said that as of today, the number of sanitation workers in the eastern part of the city has not yet grown.

“They replaced [the employees] one for one, the contractor was even forced to take employees from the Old City and transfer them to the neighborhoods because he didn’t have enough. It seems to be politics, where there are Arabs, there is garbage,” he said.

The city says in response that because of the agreements with the Histadrut union it had no choice but to carry out the change all at once, without any period of overlapping work and training.

The Jerusalem Affairs Ministry said the changes made by the city are unrelated to the government program for Jerusalem and the budget approved by the cabinet will only begin to arrive at the beginning of 2019, and the government will ensure that the money allocated by the state reaches its target: East Jerusalem. 

The East Jerusalem Development company said that in the long run the situation will be much better and the eastern part of the city will be much cleaner. There were some problems at the beginning with the contractor, but the situation has already improved and is now better than what it was before the changeover, said Benny Sassi, the CEO of East Jerusalem Development. The complaints relate to the changeover period and today things are completely different and in another month the situation will be much better still, he added.

The city said the “largest sanitation revolution ever in the capital was put in effect about a month ago. As part of the program, hundreds of sanitation and street cleaning employees are to be added, the frequency of garbage collection days will be increased and the level of service in the neighborhoods and commercial centers will be upgraded with an investment of tens of millions of shekels.

As part of the revolution, the sanitation services in the neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city will be transferred to operation by contractors, something that will bring about a significant upgrade in the frequency and quality of the cleanliness in the eastern neighborhoods of the city. As part of this framework, the number of sanitation workers in the eastern part of the city will be doubled and reach about 200 at the end of the process,” said city hall.