For the good news, talk to the mayor
FOR A man in the eye of a storm, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is strikingly upbeat.
Never mind the fact that the politician cancelled a trip to London this week to oversee the bulking up of security in the city, which has been at the epicentre of the terrorism sweeping Israel.
Speaking on the phone from his municipal headquarters, Mr Barkat said that the Arabs of Jerusalem are mostly happy with the status quo, tourists are safer than in any other city in the world and violence is falling fast.
The mayor reasoned that the current wave of violence emerges from a small minority of the city’s residents.
“A poll done in East Jerusalem just before this round of violence shows that the vast majority are satisfied with the situation in Jerusalem and do not want the city divided. We can demonstrate high satisfaction in Arab neighbourhoods,” he said.
The problem, he said, was not the living conditions of Arabs in East Jerusalem — 75 per cent of whom live below the poverty line, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel — but the lies told by the Palestinian leaders that get distributed on social media.
Looking forward to the day when the terrorism subsides, Mr Barkat said that investment in Arab areas was on the rise and that he would continue to look at improving quality of life for all. “I am the mayor of all people, of all children,” he said.
Mr Barkat, who himself wrestled a knife attacker to the ground in Jerusalem earlier this year, recently encouraged Jewish residents of Jerusalem with firearms permits to carry their guns and to stay on high alert. He has also boosted police numbers and set up new roadblocks and fences around Arab areas of the city.
“These techniques have been very effective. Since we put in the roadblocks and checkpoints, there has been a dramatic decrease in terror attacks.
“In fact, as the violence has dropped, we have slowly reduced the checkpoints in the less difficult areas and focused on where there has been most trouble,” he said.
He dismissed the idea that tourists should worry for their safety in the city. “Jerusalem is safer than London. I challenge friends around the world to check the statistics and find out the chances of getting hurt in their own city compared to Jerusalem. This is one of the safest cities in the world.”
He said that there was nothing Israel could — or should — do to change the security and access arrangements surrounding Al Aqsa, the mosque complex that Palestinians believe Israel is trying to overrun. The claims made by Palestinians about Al Aqsa were “incitements”, he said, adding that any changes to the status quo there would amount to rewarding terrorism.
“These violent people will end up with zero gains. No new ideas will be put on the table. All new ideas have to be taken off.”
Mr Barkat attacked the behaviour of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas during the past three weeks of violence as “shameful. He sends Muslim kids to get killed or go to jail. When they kill an innocent person in the streets of Jerusalem, he’s part of it. He’s to blame for that.”
The mayor had been planning to share his vision for Jerusalem and rally support for the city during his trip to London, which was due to have been hosted by the Jerusalem Foundation.
Barkat at the scene of a stabbing in Jerusalem earlier this