High Court raps Jerusalem over postal inequality for Arabs
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High Court raps Jerusalem over postal inequality for Arabs

Just 11 mail carriers and 8 post offices serve 300,000 Palestinians in the capital, rights group tells judges

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat inaugurates a new post office in the Arab Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiyeh, January 4, 2011 [photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90]
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat inaugurates a new post office in the Arab Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiyeh, January 4, 2011 [photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90]

Israeli authorities have neglected to provide adequate postal services to Arab residents of East Jerusalem, a panel of High Court judges ruled on Tuesday, calling on the Communications Ministry to produce a timetable for rectifying the problem.

The ruling was issued in response to a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in June 2010 on behalf of East Jerusalem residents, demanding that the Jerusalem Municipality, Israel Postal Company and the Communications Ministry drastically lessen the inequality in mail services between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

According to data provided by ACRI, only eight post offices function in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, serving a population of over 300,000. Meanwhile, West Jerusalem’s Jewish population of 530,000 is serviced by 44 post offices.

With street names and addresses being introduced to most of Arab neighborhoods only recently, just 11 postal workers currently deliver mail in the areas in question.

Mail is often deposited at the doorstep of local mosques or grocery stores, or in some 8,000 post office boxes. About 45,000 households have no access to the service.

“This situation is crazy,” attorney Tali Nir of ACRI told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “The damage to residents is tremendous. People receive requisition orders and have their property confiscated because of debts from ten years ago which they were never notified of, and meanwhile accumulated interest.”

Palestinian women walk next to an Israeli post office on Salah A-din street in East Jerusalem, March 1, 2011 photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90
Palestinian women walk next to an Israeli post office on Salah A-din street in East Jerusalem, March 1, 2011 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Mail is just one aspect of the deep discrepancy in services between East and West Jerusalem currently being debated in the Supreme Court. On Monday, a panel of three judges heard ACRI’s appeal on the water crisis plaguing the same neighborhoods. Access to education is a third issue, with a shortage of some 1,000 classrooms in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods.

In an unusual move, the court requested Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to appear on Tuesday and present City Hall’s progress on the mail issue. The head of Israel Postal Company Chaim Almoznino and Communications Ministry director general Avi Berger were also questioned by Supreme Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Uzi Vogelman and Hanan Melcer.

‘Every millimeter [in East Jerusalem] will receive street signs,’ Barkat promised the judges

“There are significant gaps between East and West Jerusalem, to put it mildly,” admitted Barkat, presenting maps to the court outlining the municipality’s efforts to finish naming streets and alleyways in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods. According to municipality attorney Danny Liebman, the street naming will end within four months, except in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the security barrier, where mapping is slower.

“Every millimeter [in East Jerusalem] will receive street signs,” Barkat promised the judges.

But the court, it seemed, was less concerned with the Jerusalem Municipality than it was with the Communications Ministry, which it said has failed in its regulatory role in forcing the postal company to provide adequate services.

Justice Hanan Melcer called Zoabi's statements 'unprecedented' in comparative law (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Supreme Court justice Hanan Melcer (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“In my view, the regulator is not fulfilling his duty,” Justice Vogelman said. The Postal Company’s job is to turn a profit, but the regulator must put forward standards, which it has not done. We will need to continue overseeing this case.”

Justice Melcer — who suggested increasing the number of local mail collection centers as a provisional move before the mapping process is complete — was harsher in tone, accusing the Postal Company of intentionally misleading the court regarding the situation on the ground. The Postal Service had claimed that 70% of letters reach their destination in East Jerusalem.

“You’re being inaccurate,” Melcer charged. “We’ve seen problems with the Postal Company in the past, you’ve denied them, and a few days later they became public knowledge. You can put mail here [in the court] and say it’s been distributed, but no one will collect it.”

Mail is just one aspect of the deep discrepancy in services between East and West Jerusalem currently being debated in the Supreme Court

“Why shouldn’t there be a post office there?” Melcer asked representatives of the Postal Company. “You decide in advance that it won’t be profitable. You purport to be wiser than the public.”

The justices were dismayed to learn that the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, numbering 10,000 residents, has no post office. Residents are directed to the surrounding Jewish neighborhoods of Gilo, Talpiot and Rasko to collect their mail.

The Reich Committee, set up by the government to standardize mail services in Israel, presented its recommendations to then-communications minister Gilad Erdan in April 2014. The committee decided that post offices must not be further than 1.5 kilometers (just under 1 mile) from residents’ homes, and waiting time in line should not surpass ten minutes. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently the de facto communications minister, must sign the recommendations for them to take effect.

But the judges demanded to know when exactly the new standards would be implemented in East Jerusalem once finalized. ACRI, for its part, claimed that even under current law, the situation is far below standard.

“Everything already exists [in the current regulations],” attorney Nir of ACRI said, asking the court for an order forcing the communications ministry and Postal Company to act. “Over the past five years, we see that results are too little and too late.”

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