Hell in East Jerusalem

High Court: Long lines at Employment Bureau, Population and Immigration Authority in East Jerusalem are “hell”; State must find operational solution On 15 March, the High Court heard a case […]

High Court: Long lines at Employment Bureau, Population and Immigration Authority in East Jerusalem are “hell”; State must find operational solution

On 15 March, the High Court heard a case brought by Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, together with the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN), on the inhuman conditions which thousands of East Jerusalem residents are forced to endure each day in order to enter the Employment Bureau, as well as the Population and Immigration Authority. These two agencies are located in the same building, which has one entrance.

“Conditions at the Employment Bureau and the Population and Immigration Authority in East Jerusalem are far from satisfactory, to say the least,” the judges said, one judge even calling them “hell”.

The court criticized the fact that the crowds must wait in the street and the way the security guards treat those waiting. It also found fault with the use of a revolving gate to enter the building, where the norm is to use such only for exiting. These revolving gates are remote controlled; they slow progress significantly, sometimes even causing injury.

The humiliating treatment and the terrible conditions at the entrance to the building are familiar to WAC-MAAN staff. Each year, the workers’ organization assists hundreds of people, particularly women, residents of East Jerusalem, in claiming their rights at the Employment Bureau (for WAC reports on this issue, see here and here). As part of its efforts, WAC has trained a large group of these women who now help others of both sexes. They also document what happens each day in the long lines.

The daily documentation and evidence from WAC’s staff on the ground were important in establishing the factual basis of the court case. The women documented the overcrowding, the humiliation, the people who fainted or collapsed in the line, and the difficulties faced by the sick and elderly. They also documented the crises caused by these conditions. It sometimes happens, for example, that a sick woman has to present herself at the Employment Bureau but is unable to endure the hours-long line, so she gives up her place and thus her benefits for the month.

It has been a year since the case was submitted and the conditions on the ground have only worsened. Rumors about the case spread among those who wait, and expectations have been high. The bus organized by WAC to go to the court hearing was full of WAC staff and activists. Palestinian media were also present to cover what has become, in recent months, a “hot” topic.

The judges urged the representative of the State to find an immediate solution, saying that a solution requiring a lot of implementation time would not be acceptable. The State replied that it was seeking a new building, but it was clear from the hearing that nothing suitable had yet been found. The court put forward various possible solutions that could be implemented at once, including additional opening hours in the afternoon, separating the two government agencies, and adding another entrance.

Atty. Abir Jubran-Dakwar, from Hamoked, proposed another solution – to enable East Jerusalem residents to access services in the Population and Immigration Authority branches in West Jerusalem or other parts of the country. At present, East Jerusalem residents may only go to the branch in East Jerusalem, even though the branches in West Jerusalem are not overcrowded and could take many more applicants.

When the state representative rejected these suggestions for security reasons, the judge suggested that he should regard the residents’ anger as a security issue too. “The anger, the rage, where does that lead people? We go crazy just waiting for quarter of an hour. What happens when people stand outside for hours?” Maybe, the judge said, if the State regards the issue this way, it will be more concerned about solving the issue.

Despite the clear decision and the court’s stern words to the State, it permitted the latter to submit an update within 90 days. The court also said it expected the State to consider the issue urgent and to use creative thinking.

“We’ve been waiting a year for a response from the State, what’s another three months?” WAC activists said. But they also noted that Ramadan will begin in May, leading to further scenes of people waiting in the heat while fasting. Nonetheless, expectations are high for tangible results.

WAC-MAAN’s Jerusalem coordinator Erez Wagner made this statement. “We have waited a year for a response to our case, and at the same time we’ve continued to witness the suffering. The State’s response offers nothing on the ground, giving the impression that the situation is the result of policy, not error. The Employment Bureau and the Population Authority in East Jerusalem deal with more than 300,000 people who expect a solution to this problem. The court acknowledged the fact that this is hell – in other words, the situation is unbearable – and I hope this will cause the State to find a real solution at last.

Translated from the Hebrew by Yonatan Preminger

אודות Wac-Maan