Sakhnin residents petition against job office removal

Four residents of Sakhnin have petitioned the High Court of Justice against a government decision to move the Employment Office serving 58,000 Israeli Arabs in the western Galilee from the city to a Jewish industrial zone in the area of the Misgav Regional Council at Terodion. The employment office, which has been located in Sakhnin since 1992, provides services for five Israeli Arab communities including Sakhnin, the largest, with a population of about 25,000, and its two satellite towns of Araba and Deir Khana, which together have a population of about 25,000. The office also serves the smaller villages of Kaukab and Sha'ab. According to attorney Sawsan Zaher of the Adalah human rights organization, the rate of unemployment in these communities averages 18 percent, including more than 10% who are active job-seekers. In order to reach the new location, Sakhnin residents must take a bus, get off at a stop on the main highway linking Sakhnin to Misgav, and walk 600 meters. Zaher wrote that many of these people are poor and cannot easily afford the bus fare, while some are old and find it difficult to walk from the bus stop to the office and back. Furthermore, public bus service from Sakhnin and its satellite towns to Misgav is infrequent and irregular. Thus, the refusal of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor to locate the employment office inside Sakhnin violates the rights of the residents, she charged. Furthermore, according to the petition, the decision to move the office to Terodion is the latest in a series of government decisions to empty Sakhnin of its urban and regional services. The National Insurance Institute established its office for Sakhnin and the other Israeli Arab towns and villages in Terodion and the Sakhnin branches of the Bank of Jerusalem and the fire department have also been located there. The latest decision to move the Employment Office "is an unreasonable administrative decision," wrote Zaher. "It involves stopping [provision of] a highly vital public service to one of the largest Arab cities in Israel, and implies that one of the biggest Arab cities is unqualified to provide this service to its residents. The public message that stems from this decision causes damage to the status of all the residents of the city and discriminates against them." The High Court has scheduled a hearing on the petition for Thursday. Meanwhile, Zaher told The Jerusalem Post that the employment office in Sakhnin has been vacated and the office equipment moved to a location in Terodion that is even farther from the highway than the offices slated to serve the Arab population. The permanent office is not ready yet, Zaher explained.