Mayor dedicates post-office boxes in east J'lem

Residents say Barkat’s gesture is not enough, demand increased building permits.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
January 5, 2012 03:49
2 minute read.
Barkat (center) and Isawiya Muktar Darwish Darwish

Barkat (center) and Isawiya Muktar Darwish Darwish 311. (photo credit: Shira Yudkoff)

Residents of east Jerusalem sent Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat a rock thrown at the crowd instead of a postcard on Wednesday, as the mayor dedicated a post-office box distribution center in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiya. The dedication was part of a High Court of Justice-mandated effort to improve postal services in east Jerusalem, but residents expressed anger that the municipality wasn’t dealing with major issues such as building permits or classrooms.

“This is like giving a dog a bone to quiet him,” said Ziad B., an Isawiya resident. “I already have a PO box in the French Hill neighborhood. [The municipality] hasn’t even done 1% of what they promised us,” he said.

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A similar distribution center will be built in the Arab neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber as well. The mayor hailed the 1,050 post-office boxes in Isawiya as a step in the right direction, and patiently listened to the residents’ individual complaints regarding needs for a community center, more classrooms and more building permits. One rock was thrown in the direction of the crowd just after the post-office box dedication, despite the heavy security presence.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) welcomed the dedication ceremony, but spokeswoman Ronit Sela noted that the “road to adequate mail service in east Jerusalem is still long.” ACRI filed a petition with the High Court in June 2010 demanding an improvement in mail distribution services in Arab neighborhoods. Mail service is difficult in these areas because of the lack of street names or numbers. Mail is delivered haphazardly to area stores, and residents often miss important notices or court summons, racking up additional late fees because they do not receive the bills, according to ACRI.

On November 9, the High Court ordered the city to create an inter-office committee consisting of representatives from the Communications Ministry, the municipality of Jerusalem, and the post office. The committee’s first step was to build post-office box distribution centers.

“It’s very complicated… we do everything to give them services,” said Hava Ronen, a spokeswoman for the Postal Services. She explained that the post-office boxes were organized according to patriarchal leaders of “hamulot,” or Arabic family clans, rather than individual families. No street names and similar family names further complicate the process of mail delivery.

“The culture of getting mail is completely different here,” she added.

The new postal service in Isawiya is organized by male heads of families, of which there are approximately 3,000. As a result, the new distribution center of 1,050 boxes will only service a third of the residents. Ronen said plans for more distribution centers or a fullservice post-office branch would be considered in the future.

During his visit on Wednesday, the mayor also dedicated a new street, Al-Maderes Street (The School Street), and held an intensive open meeting with community leaders to address serious gaps in education, infrastructure and building. But residents were angrier about a project for a controversial new national park, the Slopes of Mount Scopus, which will stymie their ability to expand their neighborhood.

“Land for our children is more important to us than roads!” yelled resident Muhammad Abu Humus as Barkat unveiled the new street sign.


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