This week in Jerusalem: Back to square one

Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs

An Egged bus in front of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
An Egged bus in front of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Back to square one
About a month after the short strike launched by Mayor Nir Barkat, in protest against the refusal of the Treasury to enlarge the city’s budget, things seem to be back to square one – meaning large-scale dismissal of employees and the closing down of several administrations at Safra Square.
According to sources at the municipality, the Treasury agreed to grant only NIS 700 million – NIS 300m. less than the sum requested by Barkat. As a result, he said, he will have no choice but to dismiss a large number of employees, which in turn prompted Avihai Avraham, the chairman of the municipality’s employees committee, to declare that he would not enable that.
In regard to the additional sum approved by the Treasury – about NIS 145m., funds that should come directly from the various government ministries (Health, Education, Labor and Social Services, etc.) – Barkat has already expressed his concern that, as in former years, these ministries will try to evade implementing the transfers, and thus make it almost impossible to run any projects in these fields.
Avraham has already announced that if nothing changes in the Treasury’s position, he will go on strike.
Remember the wave of violence that got the title of the “Knife Intifada”? Besides its tragic events and victims, the situation that prevailed then was a disaster for businesses in the city. The existing resource in cases of emergency situations – and wars – is the National Compensation Fund, which has the prerogative to pay for damages caused by security issues to residents and business owners. But that fund can be operated only if the state – namely the defense minister – declares that this was a war. Waves of violence, like an intifada, or an IDF operation beyond the borders are not included in this definition, and thus, last time Jerusalem witnessed such a situation, most of the local businesses that suffered from its results – no tourists, no clients at bars, coffee shops and restaurants – couldn’t get any compensation.
Now, the Treasury has agreed to take into consideration the special situation in Jerusalem, where an outburst of violence could happen anytime but would still not be considered a war. A compensation fund is being created, limited to Jerusalem, which is to be fed by regular contributions of business owners and the government, in order to present an adequate response in such cases.
Violence on wheels
Residents have perhaps noticed that the signs on Egged buses are not the usual ads but a call to keep violence off the buses. This campaign by Egged comes in reaction to an increase in violence toward the drivers. Besides a recent event during which a policeman (not in uniform) attacked a bus driver because the bus lightly scraped his car, the company’s management said that there have been too many cases of violence, verbal mostly, against the drivers, with the largest number of incidents occurring in Jerusalem.
In response to that particular case, Egged planned a strike of two hours in the capital this past Sunday, which it finally agreed to reduce to a one hour’s strike only, of the line (59) on which the attack occurred.
However, Egged is apparently not aware of the growing frustration of the city’s public transport customers, who often have to wait longer than the intervals called for by the bus schedules. For more than two years now, repeated attempts to get better bus service for city residents have not brought satisfactory results. According to city council member Elad Malka (Hitorerut), Egged refused to hire more drivers to ease the situation, while the company still holds a monopoly on public bus transportation in the city, a monopoly Malka is trying to break.
Moving out?
Is the headquarters of the Israel Postal Company to be moved out of Jerusalem? According to the findings of former deputy mayor Ofer Berkovitch, this could explain why company CEO Dan Goldstein recently informed his employees of a site in Modi’in for a new headquarters that will cover the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas.
Berkovitch said that if that is the plan, it would be another blow to the city, as it would bring the dismissal of hundreds of local employees and deny job opportunities to hundreds more. That, in addition to the fact that this move would be in total contradiction to the rule that requires all national and governmental institutions to be located in the capital.
According to the Israel Postal Company, only a part of the postal services now based in the city would move to Modi’in, and there will be no dismissals. The move is planned to take place within two years.
Law and order in school
The Jerusalem Education Administration (Manhi) is promoting a new educational project aiming to make the country’s courts system more accessible to young students. The idea is to bring justices, legal advisers and lawyers (from both the public and private spheres) to teach students in grades 10 and 11 about the judicial system, and to familiarize them with the importance and the rules of the law.
This year, the program is operating in five junior high schools, and will be followed next year by additional schools across the city. For now, in the five schools – Makif Gilo, Dror, Pisgat Ze’ev, Denmark and the Hand in Hand high school – the courses are presented by justices, high-ranking officials from the city’s Legal Adviser’s Office, and private and public service attorneys.
Ethics and drama
Following a report that Israel’s healthcare system is one of the few places that Jews and Arabs truly work together with mutual respect and dignity, the legal branch of the Reform Movement in Israel and the government have begun work on a Voluntary Ethical Code of Equality and Diversity. The project to develop a voluntary code of ethics for equality and counteract racial discrimination in workplaces has been granted government funding. The voluntary code will encourage businesses and organizations to create more respectful, diverse and accepting workplaces and provide them with tools to promote equality. Businesses that adopt the code will undergo a training process and receive a certificate affirming that they work to create an inclusive, equal and diverse environment. To keep their certification, they will have to meet certain ongoing benchmarks, to be monitored by the Standards Institute of Israel.
Could do better
Jerusalem ranked 27th on this year’s list of the most stable municipalities. The rating criteria, assessed by financial data company CofaceBdi, include proper management and use of the budget, the capacity to collect taxation, including past debts, from both residents and businesses, the general socioeconomic status of the residents and more.
Small and medium cities achieved the highest ratings in the report. Tel Aviv dropped from 11th to 13th place; Beersheba placed 21st. Our capital, which is also the largest and the poorest city, dropped from 21st place last year to 27th this year. The socioeconomic profile of the residents here has worsened and, for the third consecutive time, there was no approved budget by the deadline at the end of the year.
Pride of our eye
A successful local company that develops advanced driver-assistance systems is building a large compound in the north of the city. Earlier this week, the municipality approved a building project for the Mobileye Jerusalem campus, which includes a 30-story tower and an eight-story building with six underground stories for parking, restaurants and coffee shops for the users of the compound. When ready, the new campus will provide hundreds of employment opportunities for Jerusalemites.
Death of a tree
The stately palm trees that beautified Safra Square are gone. The trees were disease-stricken with Ganoderma butt rot. The first symptom of infection is the withering and drooping of older fronds, which collapse and droop parallel to the trunk. Not much can be done once the disease infects the trees. When attempts to treat the trees failed, it was decided to cut them down. There are no plans at this point to replace them.
Clearing the air
An Environment Ministry report says that the capital’s pollution level in the city has become a health concern. In certain locations, like the Border Police base in Talpiot and along parts of the Old City walls, very high levels of pollution have been detected, raising the risk of lung diseases and other health problems. In the Old City where garbage is not collected on a regular basis, pollution risks are also increased.
With or without you
Following the exclusion of residents from city council meetings in the past three months, Yerushalmim and Meretz have decided to hold alternative sessions. The first one took place earlier this week, on Monday evening, at the Knesset, with the participation of all council opposition lists. City council member and president of the Yerushalmim list Fleur Hassan-Nahum chaired the session, which was devoted to education, public transportation and the lack of cleanliness in the city. Hassan-Nahum said that as long as Mayor Nir Barkat ignores the needs of the residents and prevents them from exercising their right to air their complaints to the mayor and the council, she will continue to hold these alternative meetings with all the opposition members.
Furnishing answers
Where has IKEA gone? To Beit Shemesh, apparently. Why? The answer is somewhere in the winding bureaucratic corridors of the Israel Lands Authority. The giant furniture company and the municipality, with the support of the Jerusalem Development Authority, spared no efforts to bring the iconic Swedish firm to the capital. IKEA’s needs were not easy to accommodate – they wanted a large site easily accessible from the center and commercial areas. No fewer than three proposed solutions were rejected. Finally a location was settled on near Malha and all the permits and arrangements were taken care of (the procedure took almost two years, but that, according to sources at the permits and licensing administration at the municipality, is reasonable for such a large demand).
Then came the need for a special permit from the ILA, since the location chosen was originally zoned for offices, not commercial use. At that point, everything got stuck; more than eight months passed with no permits on the horizon. IKEA lost patience and dropped the whole idea, and now they are close to concluding the arrangements in Beit Shemesh.