GARBAGE PILES UP on Agrippas Street just outside the Mahaneh Yehuda Market in the capital yesterday..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Less than three days after 170 sanitation workers were abruptly fired by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat over a budget shortfall, the capital bared the visage of a dystopian wasteland, with the Mahaneh Yehuda Market, popularly known as the “shuk,” serving as ground zero.
Under a steel gray sky, dozens of piles of garbage from the resulting strike clogged the celebrated market’s main thoroughfare Sunday afternoon, forcing pedestrians and merchants alike to gingerly walk through a refuse-laden obstacle course to avoid slipping, or worse.
“I think this is irresponsible on the city’s behalf because, as you can see, the piling up of garbage can cause health hazards – especially in a place where they are selling food,” said Elie Tradburks, a 27-year-old environmental consultant treading his way through the disheveled area.
Asked who is to blame for the crisis, he said the municipality and Finance Ministry were equally responsible.
“Obviously it’s Jerusalem’s responsibility to take care of its citizens, but at the same time it’s the country’s responsibility to oversee that and to make sure that no matter what the citizens are taken care of,” he said.
Tradburks said Barkat’s move to terminate sanitation workers before other municipal employees was premeditated to exact immediate consequences that would be seen and felt by all of the city’s residents.
“The steps he took made it pretty obvious that it would lead to a strike, and now the Jerusalem citizens are suffering from that,” said Tradburks. “I think Nir Barkat needs to show the citizens that he cares about them, otherwise we’ll vote for someone who does.”
Sammy Levi, who manages Rambam, a popular herbal and spice market, described the scene as “disgusting.”
“Look at all the garbage over here,” he pointed ahead, while manning his cash register.
“They don’t know how to control the situation.”
Still, Levi said he sided with the striking sanitation workers, whom he believes unfairly served as sacrificial lambs in an ugly political chess match between Barkat and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
“I feel for the fired employees and their families, and I’m honestly with them because they didn’t deserve to get fired,” he said. “They make little money and clean our city, and then you fire them after all the work they’ve done for us?” Levi blamed Barkat for the layoffs and resulting eyesore.
“He’s responsible for all these decisions,” he said. “When you make these decisions you need to be responsible for all of this, and that’s his fault.”
Moreover, Levi described the mayor as hypocritical for allowing the capital to become so unkempt after launching an emergency PR campaign last month to attract tourists to spend time and money in the beleaguered city, whose economy is in shambles following a three-month-long terror wave.
Asa Rikin, who works at a small pub in the area called Beer Bazaar, echoed Levi’s sentiments that the sanitation workers were correct to strike, despite the resulting grotesque atmosphere.
“I think they are right to strike because they lost their jobs,” he said. “Barkat wants to show the world that the government does not care about Jerusalem and it’s not true. It’s a game, a political game. He knows the people will get angry when they see all the garbage.”
Meanwhile, vegetable stand owner Avraham Cohen used an expletive to describe the trash blocking his store, saying Barkat should have terminated well-compensated, high-ranking staff members, whose salaries dwarf those of the sanitation workers.
“Let him fire one or two senior people from his own staff,” he said. “They make 10 times what the trash workers make and do less work.”