I hate this trash container:
This trash container sits on the block where my youngest daughter goes to school. Can you see the school just beyond the trees on the left? It’s a big school: thirteen grades with 3-5 over-enrolled classes per grade. Hundreds of children have to get to and from the school every day, their parents negotiating the narrow street made even more narrow by the volume of traffic, and the fact that there only about 15 parking spaces so parents park on the sidewalk and double park on the street during drop off and pick up times.
The school is in East Jerusalem – the part of Jerusalem that Israel annexed illegally and has cut off from the rest of the West Bank with an 8-meter high concrete separation wall, checkpoints, and Jewish settlements. Palestinian Jerusalemites pay taxes to the Jerusalem Municipality, part of the Israeli governmental system, but the services we get are inferior. This trash container symbolizes, for me, that Palestinians in Jerusalem are, at best, neglected.
Notice that the trash container, like many others, fills the entire sidewalk. That means that pedestrians who need to pass by the trash container have to step into the street. Watch a few seconds of this video (by clicking on the image below) to see the result: Children step into the street; cars come from behind them at very close proximity and often too fast.
Accidents do happen, and I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. So yesterday I took myself down to the Jerusalem Municipality to ask the sanitation folks to move the trash container to a safer location.
I entered the parking structure and leaned out my window to ask the guard if I was in the right place. He shouted (I think), “Pay when you leave!” so I drove down 5 levels and parked. All the signs were in Hebrew – no English (okay) and no Arabic (despite that it is also an official language of Israel). I made my way through the beautiful open square all the while thinking “we don’t have such nice landscaping on our side of town.”
Several different, friendly Israelis directed me to the sanitation department.
But none of the professional staff spoke Arabic or English. I attracted a small crowd of employees who chattered loudly to one another and waved their hands not knowing what to do with me. Finally a janitor came forward to translate. I explained to him about the trash container. He explained it to them. They told me to call 106 and make a complaint, but that I needed the street name and address. Street name? We don’t use street names. Addresses? We call the buildings by the name of the owner. I told them it was near the school and that would have to do. When I doubted that the complaint line staff would speak Arabic, the woman picked up the phone on her desk and dialed. She pushed this and that and handed me the phone: “I selected Arabic,” she told me through my trusty janitor friend. I waited. There were many announcements in Hebrew and I was supposed to press something, but who knows what. The woman hung up and called again.
The woman got me into an Arabic queue, but the operator who answered didn’t speak Arabic. Luckily, she spoke English. I asked her to arrange to move the trash container to a location where it would not require children to walk in front of moving cars. “Get the record number!” the woman who was helping me said, but the operator on the phone didn’t want to give it to me, or maybe she didn’t know what I was talking about, or maybe I didn’t know what I was talking about. I handed the phone to the woman at the desk and she wrote down the number.
I retraced my steps (again noting the big, beautiful expanse of public open space) and got my car. Five levels up, I couldn’t get out of the lot. You have to pay 12 shekels at the machine on the first floor. Is that what he meant by “Pay when you go out”? I had to go re-park my car again! And of course the parking ticket machine on the first floor is in Hebrew and Russian. Luckily another nice Israeli came along. Not only did he work the machine for me, he also gave me change for the only bill I had, which was too large for the machine.
Wouldn’t you know it? The exit put me heading straight into the heart of busy West Jerusalem traffic, the opposite direction to where I live. It took 25 minutes to turn around. I am not exaggerating. By the time I got home, I was exhausted. I’d been gone for hours. I have a PhD but the whole experience made me feel as if I had regressed to first grade. It is no wonder that Palestinians do not like to engage with the Municipality or any official Israeli body. The system is not meant to serve anyone, but especially not Palestinians, and no one makes any effort to hide that fact.
My complaint number? It’s 16737.