South Jerusalem Palestinians Left Without Postal Services for Two Weeks Over Employee Corruption Charges

Five staffers were detained on suspicion of stealing from Postal Bank accounts ■ Branch cannot be immediately reopened because it ran as an agency rather than by Israel Postal Company

The postal branch in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher, January 15, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

It's been two weeks since the arrest of the postal staff of Sur Baher on suspicion of corruption, and there is still no regular mail service in Palestinian neighborhoods of south Jerusalem.

As in other neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, most residents in Sur Baher receive their mail at post office boxes at the neighborhood branch. As a postal agency rather than a regular branch, its operations are subcontracted to an outside operator, and it is not run by the Israel Postal Company, although the postal company, which is owned by the government, said the agency is expected to be replaced.

Postal employees from another East Jerusalem branch have been coming from time to time to distribute mail to the post office boxes, but residents say the outsiders are not familiar with residents and some of the mail hasn’t been reaching the correct recipients.

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The Sur Baher agency, which serves tens of thousands of residents in the immediate area and beyond, was closed after five staffers there were detained following a police investigation over suspicions that about 300,000 shekels ($82,000) was stolen from accounts at the Postal Bank of the branch.

“It’s a primary institution,” said Fuad Abu Hamed, a social activist in Sur Baher. “It’s impossible to function without mail. It affects elderly people and it’s an essential service, especially because there is no bank in the neighborhood. They receive their monthly benefits from the National Insurance Institute and there are a lot of people who have dealings with the authorities, the courts, and with home demolitions who aren’t receiving notifications.”

About a week ago, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel approached the Israel Postal Company on the issue and was told that since the Sur Baher branch was run independently as a postal agency it could not be immediately reopened. A lawyer for the civil rights organization, Tal Hassin, wrote in response that this does not absolve the postal company from responsibility from providing full and regular postal services to residents and does not justify the continuing harm it is doing to area residents.

For its part, the Israel Postal Company responded: “Unfortunately the postal agency in Sur Baher was closed without prior notice following a police investigation. We are working to distribute the area’s residents’ mail and packages and at the same time expect to issue a new request for bids to operate the postal agency.”