This report is based on an interview with Erez Wagner, director of MAAN’s East Jerusalem office, and with Atty. Abir Joubran from MAAN’s legal department in Jerusalem. Erez Wagner has been active for many months in the protests against the government’s judicial reforms that have shaken the country since January 2023. When the protest leadership set up the civilian Emergency Center, he joined the activists there, offering MAAN’s resources and knowledge of the situation.
- How is MAAN integrated into the civilian Eemergency Center?
When the civilian Emergency Center was set up to assist survivors from the Hamas massacre in the south, as well as serving the city’s residents in the anticipated times of war , it was only natural that MAAN activists would join the team while putting their emphasis on assistance to East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents – who comprise some 40% of the city’s population. MAAN added to its work on labor assistance also efforts to provide food for needy families, which MAAN knows well from its daily work. We have cooperated closely with Ms. Gal Eblagon from the Jerusalem Alliance, Kulna and other CSOs who all work with us for many years. Together we have been able to set up a food distribution network in the various neighborhoods supported by a fund set up via the Rossing Center. Both Israel and Palestinian organizations cooperate in the understanding that we live in the same city, and if we want to create a better reality for the day after, we need to uphold principles of equality and welfare for all, now more than ever.
- What is the situation in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods since October 7?
Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents have been put under practices of collective punishment. In the first and second weeks, the checkpoints at the entrance to Shu’afat refugee camp, the Zeitun crossing and the Qalandia checkpoint were shut most of the time. They were closed not only to West Bank residents but also to Jerusalem residents, who have permanent residency in Israel, and work in the city center and access vital services there. This extreme situation affected also ambulances that could not give services even to acute cases. The only passage that was open was via the distant Hizma checkpoint.
Especially in the first fortnight, other parts of Jerusalem, like the Old City, were confronted with an unofficial closure, with serious limitations on movement. A heavy police presence and provisional barriers in the city, created fear of leaving one’s home. We were informed of shortages of basic products including food supplies.
The situation is still especially dire in neighborhoods like Kufr ’Aqab, Shuafat Refugee camp and A-Shayakh, all separated from the city by checkpoints. Some 160,000 people live in these neighborhoods.
- What’s the employment situation like for residents of East Jerusalem?
Many Palestinians in the city are still afraid of going into the western part of the city. Some have been attacked, by both extreme rightwing groups and by police. Also, the entire Israeli economy is in crisis, which has led some businesses to downsize and fire employees. Others have been fired as employers dismissed them for publishing posts on social media that might have indicated support for Hamas and its actions. Some were censored for showing grief for dead civilians in Gaza.
MAAN handles many cases. We try to help workers who need to submit claims for unemployment benefit during unpaid leave (also known as Halat), or for income benefits, as well as claims for food vouchers. MAAN makes great effort to mediate between workers and employers so that they can go back to work when it becomes possible. We came across many cases of workers who were dismissed just because they cannot get to work either because of the checkpoints or because they are afraid. When workers have been dismissed because of things they’ve posted on social media, MAAN ensures that the legal process is followed, with a hearing, so that workers can explain themselves before any steps are taken.
We are convinced that both workers and employers have an interest in maintaining a functioning economy, and not reach a dangerous level of hardship.
- Can you elaborate on the issue of employment and dismissals in EJ?
There are thousands of workers who need guidance and legal and technical advice. We recently set up a hotline for cases of dismissals, for assistance in keeping their jobs, and how to handle National Insurance and Employment Bureau issues. We published a new guide in Arabic: “Workers’ rights in the shadow of war”. We also help those who need food vouchers to fill in forms. In the first week, we simply made phone calls to hundreds of MAAN members to see how they were doing and offered them assistance. Even before we published the guide, we had some two hundred new complaints to handle.
- On October 29, MAAN addressed Jerusalem’s chief of police and the head of the Home Front on the issue of the checkpoints.
A large proportion of the cases that have come to us since the beginning of the war, and especially in the second half of October, concern the checkpoints. In our communication with the Jerusalem police on October 29, we describAtted the intolerable situation and demanded that the authorities publish the opening times of the checkpoints, as well as the circumstances which cause them to be closed. We also emphasized that the checkpoints must be open to enable Jerusalem residents to get to work and to schools, and to access health services.
MAAN’s Att. Abir Joubran explained the importance of publishing the checkpoint’s opening and closing times, and their impact on workers’ rights: workers who fail to get to work because the checkpoint is closed must have official documentation of the closure, or else they are liable to be accused of being absent without good reason, and to be dismissed without compensation.
Our demand was supported by representatives of the City Council, and was raised in discussion with the mayor Mr. Moshe Leon. We are working closely with people in the city council including Ms. Laura Wharton and Mr. Yosi Havilio and the protest movement, to help solve this critical issue of the checkpoints.
MAAN also contributes from its experience in discussions held by the Jerusalem Institute, in which issues relating to the situation in EJ are debated. Erez Wagner spoke about MAAN’s experience in the meeting of October 24, and Att. Abir Joubran talked in the meeting held on October 31 focusing on employment in the Palestinian neighborhoods. Among those participating were city council representatives, police, and the civil society organizations from East Jerusalem.
We can certainly say that the cooperation of the past month between Jerusalem CSOs, both Jewish and Palestinian, which has received the blessing of the City Council, has proven itself. This is not something to be taken for granted. In the context of tension and extreme conflict, this cooperation can be held up as an example for activists around the country of what can be achieved now, to help those in need while building the foundations of a common future.