Jerusalem, Eternal Capital of Muck and Neglect

Israel's capital looks like a Third World city. The rock of our existence needs a good cleaning, and fast.

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A street in Jerusalem's Nachlaot.
A street in Jerusalem's Nachlaot. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Around two years ago I got a phone call from a regional sanitation inspector at the Jerusalem municipality. The call came after numerous calls and letters I had sent to the municipality in which I asked them to deal with the dog poop scattered all over the city’s streets. After a year in the United States, Jerusalem looked dirtier to me than ever, but these “land mines” were just too much.

“Hello, I’m the cleanliness inspector for your area,” the woman said. “I understand you have a complaint about dog poop?” I was overwhelmed with joy. Finally this city is starting to function, I thought.

I explained to the inspector that the Train Track Park, the city’s newest promenade, attracts many dog owners. I simply asked why there couldn’t be inspectors there, as there are in cities in other countries, giving out tickets to dog owners who don’t clean up after their pets. It would clear up the problem within days, I said.

The inspector’s response was nothing less than astonishing. “So you say there’s a lot of dog poop there? Are you there a lot? You know what, if you see someone whose dog is making a mess, ask to see his identity card, call City Hall, and give us [his details.] Okay?”

I was sure she was joking, but I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Are you serious?” I replied. “I should stand there and ask people for their ID? Do you think any of them are required by law to give me their ID? And anyway, if you want me to be a volunteer inspector, how about I give out parking tickets downtown?”

She didn’t quite get the joke, saying only that there was no budget for enforcement. My attempt to explain that such inspectors make money for the city was in vain.

Why am I telling this story now? How is it connected to the elections?

Last week a lovely color brochure, printed on expensive, heavy paper and headed “We see ourselves in Jerusalem” appeared in our mailbox, together with our annual arnona (local property tax) bill. To help sweeten the blow, the city fathers presumably hatched the brilliant idea of showing residents where their arnona shekels go. Mayor Nir Barkat is featured on a number of pages — looking out at the rain-drenched city, inspecting a new road, eating with children at an after-school program (Hey, haven’t you heard of bisphenol A? Do you really let kids eat hot food off of disposable foam plates? And photograph it for ads, yet?)

I assume that in Barkat’s neighborhood they clean the streets properly. His children don’t come home with dog poop on their shoes. My neighborhood, however, despite our very high arnona rates, is dirty and neglected. That’s what happens when no one cares. That’s what happens when there’s no enforcement. After all, no one avoids parking in no-parking zones out of altruism. Enforcement is deterrence.

So what does this have to do with the election? Well, the march of candidates to the Western Wall, the number of photos with Jerusalem in the background that we are (unfortunately) sure to see in political ads and the declarations that “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people” cannot hide the criminal neglect. Jerusalem looks like a Third World city. The rock of our existence needs a good cleaning, and fast.

The author teaches in the communications department of Sapir College.

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