Fifty-one years of neglect of East Jerusalem have bred squalor, violence, juvenile delinquency and terrorism in the neighborhoods of that part of our capital city. Late, but hopefully not too late, the government has allocated a substantial amount for spending on basic infrastructure there. This will take time and a lot of money. But what could be supplied quickly and easily are the basic services to which the residents are entitled. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
A case in point is the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, which is supposed to provide services to all citizens and residents of Israel who need official documents such as identity cards and passports.
Most Israelis can now access these services through the internet, but not the residents of East Jerusalem. They must report to the agency’s offices in East Jerusalem to obtain the required services from the authority’s civil servants. Obedient public servants they do not seem to be.
A recent article by Nir Hasson in Haaretz described the shameful conditions outside these offices: a crowd of people jostling one another, being humiliated by the security guards and unable to find out when their turn might come. It was an eye-opener to most Israelis — and even to most residents of West Jerusalem — who have become used to receiving courteous service from the population authority, service that is evidently denied to the Arab residents of Israel’s capital.
As a result MK Yoav Kish, the chairman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, convened the committee last week to discuss the matter. The session was chaired by MK Benny Begin. The head of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority did not honor the meeting with his presence. He was represented by Naif Hinu, a senior agency official. Hinu told the committee the authority was negotiating with the city to rent an additional building but said it would take at least six months for the new offices to open. In other words, in the meantime nothing could be done to improve the services the agency is obliged to provide to the residents of East Jerusalem.
The following day, the High Court of Justice heard a petition regarding the conditions at the agency’s East Jerusalem bureau. The justices were informed that it would take at least half a year to open another agency office. The court said it expected the agency to use initiative and creativity to give the highest priority to measure to improve what the justices termed a completely unsatisfactory situation.
Of course there is no excuse for the absence of the decent and courteous service that the authority is obliged to provide to all residents of Jerusalem. It reflects a lack of regard and respect for the Arab residents of the city.
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No doubt there are a number of measures that could be taken to provide immediate relief. As suggested by Begin, applicants could be directed to agency offices in other parts of the city. Perhaps a contractor could be found to erect a large tent, equipped with power, heating and communications equipment, that could serve as temporary offices. The interior minister should step in and take control of the situation. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.