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

The 'clean revolution,' as Mayor Nir Barkat calls it, began in Jerusalem last month, with the privatization of sanitation services in the east. Sanitation in East Jerusalem has since deteriorated

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

A month after the “clean revolution,” as Mayor Nir Barkat calls it, began in Jerusalem, sanitation in East Jerusalem has deteriorated.

The main effect of the “largest sanitation revolution in Jerusalem,” announced by city hall in conjunction with the Environmental Affairs, Jerusalem Affairs and Finance ministries, was the privatization of all garbage collection services in the Arab neighborhoods of the capital. Before the change, the city employed about 200 permanent sanitation workers in East Jerusalem. Now they have all been transferred to the western part of the city and city-supervised contractors have taken their place. 

Residents say the garbage situation in East Jerusalem has gotten worse since the reform was introduced, which was already highly problematic. Social networks have been filled with pictures of garbage piled up in the streets.

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“They transferred everything to a contractor … Young workers came who do not know the job. They leave a lot of garbage around," said Darwish Darwish, the chairman of the community administration in Isawiyah, an Arab neighborhood in the north of the city. "When it was in the hands of the city the situation was better – I would speak with Zion Sheetrit [the head of the sanitation division] and he would deal with it. Now there is no one to talk to.”  

“The situation now is worse than before and I don’t know why,” manager of the community administration in Silwan, Mohammed Awida, said, after touring the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem on Wednesday. He documented piles of garbage on almost every street.

Residents say the new contractors have not managed to take control of the garbage situation and that supervision is too loose. “I see garbage in all the neighborhoods: A-Tur, Silwan, Ras al-Amud. They brought a contractor who doesn’t know how to work. He cleans the main streets, but inside the neighborhood the garbage remains,” said a worker from the city’s sanitation division.

In at least one neighborhood the sanitation situation has improved greatly. In the al-Salahin neighborhood, hundreds of residents did not receive garbage collection services for decades because the garbage trucks could not navigate the narrow streets. Now, after a long struggle and because of the new project, special new trucks were purchased that can enter the neighborhood and these have begun collecting the garbage. “We suffered for 30 years, and in the past two weeks, bless God, they have begun to clean up,” said Nasser Tamimi, a resident of the neighborhood.

Two groups of activists on sanitation issues exist in Jerusalem: “The Little Prince” group that includes activists form all over the city, and the “Mini-Active” group that includes mostly Palestinian women who document environmental hazards and act with the city to have them corrected. The two groups have been flooded recently with complaints from residents about piles of garbage in the streets. One of the Mini-Active activists posted a picture of a large pile of garbage at the entrance to a school: “How long will this continue and no one is listening,” she wrote.

Jerusalem city council member Laura Wharton from Meretz said the sanitation revolution has come too late and is being done in a “strange manner … Barkat decided to divide Jerusalem and privatize the sanitation in the eastern part of the city,” but this was unsuccessful and the problems have only gotten worse so now the city has a new excuse, the contractors, to avoid taking responsibility. “In isolated places there has been an improvement, and in others, such as Shuafat, the situation is a public health risk,” said Wharton.  

The Jerusalem municipality said it recently began “the largest sanitation revolution ever. As part of the revolution, the sanitation system in the eastern neighborhoods of the city were transferred to being operated by contractors to bring about a significant improvement in the frequency and quality of cleanliness. The contractor who was selected has been working for about a week and is still learning the task and the area. A situation assessment was conducted and it was decided to significantly add [trucks] and other resources to bring things up to standard and improve the cleanliness.” The city added that the sanitation revolution was a long and complex process that in the near future would lead to a change “in the public space in the eastern part of the city.”