New east J'lem Interior Ministry offices inaugurated

After years of delay, the new offices of the Interior Ministry in east Jerusalem were inaugurated Sunday, with the aim of providing vastly improved services to the city's Arab residents. "Today is a holiday first and foremost for the 250,000 Arab residents of east Jerusalem as well as for the workers of the Interior Ministry," Deputy Interior Minister Ruhama Avraham said at the festive ribbon-cutting ceremony. The spacious new site, located on the edge of the Wadi Joz neighborhood adjacent to Mount Scopus, will officially open its doors to the public on Tuesday, Interior Ministry officials said. The ministry's previous east Jerusalem offices were notorious for their long lines and overcrowding, which were only exacerbated by security considerations and understaffing, often forcing Arab residents of the city to wait outside in the cold or heat for hours just to enter the building. "A country which wants its residents to respect it must also show them respect," Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said at the event, which was also attended by a small showing of Arab neighborhood leaders. Lupolianski called the old interior ministry offices "a symbol of discrimination," and said that by finally opening the new offices Israel was "today erasing disgrace." The lavish new offices, which also house the employment service and juvenile probation service, easily thrusts the east Jerusalem office far ahead of the main, rather dilapidated, Interior Ministry offices in central Jerusalem, which serves Israelis and tourists. In the principal office room at the new east Jerusalem site, eight terminals are in place to serve residents, with ministry officials pledging Sunday that in addition to the vastly upgraded surroundings service itself will also be improved. The long-awaited move, which comes in the wake of a Supreme Court order, ends years of postponements over a new site to properly serve east Jerusalem's quarter of a million Arab residents. Until last year, the Jerusalem Municipality had been paying about NIS 1 million a year for security at the site of the new building after local residents took the state to court over land rights and squatters and criminals were using the building. As city residents, Jerusalem Arabs receive an array of social services from Israel, including health care, unemployment pay and social security benefits, while their blue Israeli ID cards, identifying them as Jerusalem residents, afford them freedom of movement between Jerusalem and the West Bank.