RAMALLAH, West Bank — As of the evening of Aug. 30, the Palestinian post office in the southern West Bank city of Jericho was still busy sorting 10 tons of mail. The Palestinian Authority had distributed only half of the massive backlog it received in mid-August from Jordan when the Israeli authorities finally released it after an eight-year delay.
Ramadan Ghazzawi, the Palestinian Post official overseeing the sorting process, told Al-Monitor that workers in the post office in Jericho and many other offices across the West Bank have been working day and night, adding, “We still need another three weeks to get through all the mail and distribute it to West Bank post offices.”
On Aug. 13, Palestinian Minister of Communications and Information Technology Allam Mousa announced that Israel had released about 10 tons of mail held since 2010. It includes mail shipped at various costs and priority levels. Dozens of workers have been sorting hundreds of plastic bags at the Palestinian Post in Jericho in the West Bank.
Israel and the PA signed an agreement in 2008 for direct postal exchange via Jordan under the auspices of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), but the agreement was not implemented. Both parties renewed the agreement in September 2016 to allow Palestinians to receive mail through Jordan via land crossings after spending 48 hours in Israeli security screening, but the agreement was yet again not implemented.
Ghazzawi noted, “We have various types of mail from all over the world. There is paper mail, letters, parcels, goods and small online-shopping packages. They’re all randomly mixed.”
He said that before the mail was handed over, it passed through two Israeli security checks: first at the Allenby crossing and again at the Israeli Civil Administration headquarters in the West Bank settlement of Beit El near Ramallah. It was then returned to the Allenby crossing to be handed over to the Palestinian post office in Jericho.
“A large part of the mail is damaged and rotted due to the long storage period, weather factors and transport, destroying postal information such as names, addresses and tracking numbers,” Ghazzawi said. He explained that the sorting process also includes repairing and packaging damaged mail and integrating the mail within the International Posting System (IPS) which connects postal facilities that are part of the UPU, to be registered with the Palestinian Post.
He said the mail that has been sorted so far will start reaching citizens by Aug. 26, after Eid al-Adha. A statement from the Ministry of Communications will be delivered with the mail advising citizens of the conditions in which the mail was received and that the PA is not responsible for damages.
Israel's refusal to release Palestinian mail has denied the Palestinian treasury millions of dollars every year. The agreement between the PA and Israel stipulates that the PA collects the terminal dues, not Israel, which would make the treasury millions of dollars, Ghazzawi noted.
Ghazzawi said terminal dues are the payments one country makes to another for the mail it sends to it. The payment is calculated based on the difference in weight. He added, “Palestine receives more mail than it sends out, which is why it has the right to collect terminal dues from the countries sending out the mail. The terminal dues include the costs of sorting and distributing the mail.” Israel has been collecting those dues because it controls Palestine's mail.
According to the Palestine Post website, Israel withholds the funds due to the Palestine Post, including terminal dues. As a result, the Palestinian Post has lost $20,000 monthly since 2004, amounting to more than $3.5 million worth of losses overall.
Mohammad Ashtiyeh from Nablus has been waiting three years for a small LCD screen that he had purchased online. “I lost hope in the package ever arriving. With a three-year delay, it will most probably be damaged,” he told Al-Monitor.
Ghazzawi pointed out that one package sent in 2012 from the United States "contained clothes for a two-year-old boy. We are in 2018 and that toddler is now a young boy.”
He added, “We also received a wheelchair sent by a donor in Turkey in 2015 to a disabled person in the West Bank, whose identity is yet to be determined because the name and address are no longer visible.”
Although all mail has been released, Palestinians fear more delays from Israel. The acting general director of the Palestinian Post, Hussein Sawafta, told Al-Monitor that Palestinians are in open discussion with the Israelis to implement signed agreements including those stipulating the entry of mail from Jordan. Sawafta believes Israel released the mail at this particular time to improve its image before the UPU, which will convene next month in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
He said that there will be several issues to discuss with the Israelis concerning mail to Palestine, pointing out that several bodies will be involved in supervising the process such as the UPU and Palestinian ministries.
On Aug. 14, AFP quoted an anonymous official in the Israeli administration as saying that there was an agreement between Israel and the PA that post would be carried directly to the Palestinian territories, but “this is yet to happen,” without stating why. The official stated that Israel “allowed a one-time transfer of approximately 10 and a half tons of mail that had been held in Jordan.”
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