Amid a flurry of attacks by knife-wielding terrorists in Jerusalem, Mayor Nir Barkat implored Jewish citizens with gun permits to carry weapons when out in public.
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post in Barkat’s city hall office, the mayor discussed why residents should be armed, as well as the security concerns that led to a city-wide secondary school strike that is spreading on Sunday to the rest of the system.
Asked what he would say to residents of Jerusalem about the present crisis, Barkat said the wave of violence is not unprecedented, and must be dealt with through collective vigilance.
“We’ve been in tougher situations in the past,” he said. “There is a new pattern though – a pattern of people independently using knives and other means to kill innocent people. That means that you have to be very alert.”
Barkat emphasized that residents must not give in to fear.
“People should turn the fear that they have into a positive by protecting themselves and going on with their normal lives, but keeping their eyes open,” he said. “If you see anything suspicious, call the security forces. They won’t take anything lightly.”
Moreover, Barkat said the municipality and government are “dramatically increasing the means” of fighting terrorism and chronic rioting throughout the city.
“There’s an array of things that we’re doing,” he said.
“Still, the citizens and residents of Jerusalem have to understand that they must remain strong; that we will overcome this. Go on with daily life and overcome your fear, because that’s how we each contribute to fighting the terrorism.”
One effective means of fighting terrorism, Barkat said, is for all Jerusalem residents with gun licenses to walk the city armed.
“Unlike in the US and Europe, where you don’t actually know the quality of the people carrying guns, Israel is exactly the opposite,” he said.
“Here the people with licenses are trained professional military people in the reserves; officers who have fought in combat units. In Israel we have a huge amount of reservists that go to war, and are as trained, if not better, in combat.
“In a situation with terrorist attacks with knives, you fight,” he said.
Citing two terrorist attacks over the past two days, Barkat asserted that the tens of thousands of reservists represent a key asset.
“Today a military guy, an officer, is the one who shot and neutralized a terrorist in Tel Aviv,” he said. “Yesterday we had a civilian carrying his gun [in Jerusalem], and when he was attacked he knew how to use the weapon and he shot the terrorist. So we have two instances where not policemen, but people in the street, defended themselves.”
Barkat noted that military training is a lifelong skill that does not expire when a soldier is discharged.
“When an officer gets released from the army he still has the same skills, and if he carries his gun he knows how to use it as good as when he was in uniform,” he said.
“The point is that in Israel, unlike in America, having trained people carrying guns is a huge benefit [in terms of] the cases we have with terrorists.
“It’s a very good way to fight terrorism, because it creates a multiple of defense against the individual attacks that are going on,” he added.
Barkat rejected criticism that Israeli civilians being encouraged to carry weapons will increase risk.
“In America I would never advise this,” he said. “In America it’s the worst thing to do because you have no control, or experience and skills. They’re not professional.
In Israel, the guys that carry guns are professionals – as good, if not better, than the best in the world.”
Furthermore, Barkat said the majority of Arab terrorists in Israel have been stopped by civilians.
“We do a month a year of reserve duty and people are trained for combat,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, if you look back in history, a significant amount of neutralizing terrorists was not necessarily done by policemen.
And I don’t remember a case where there was negligence by [civilians].”
While Barkat conceded it is most prudent to have police deal with violence, he added that in extraordinary circumstances such as what is taking place in Jerusalem, “we have an advantage over the world with our military people.”
He emphasized that much of the violence has been spurred by incitement by the Palestinian Authority, which falsely claims that Jews intend to seize al-Aksa Mosque. Barkat said that he is in talks with Arab educators in east Jerusalem to explain that the status quo will not be changed.
“You have to fight the incitement, and the incitement is based on lies, so you have to tell people the truth,” he said.
Dismissing PA claims of the government taking over the Temple Mount as “total nonsense,” Barkat added that he will continue to ban violent Muslim extremists from the site, as well as Jewish extremists who incite unrest there.
“I’m committed to the status quo, and the national government has instructed the police to not enable extremists to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, and to not allow any people – Arab or Jewish – to create provocations there,” he said.
“To stabilize the situation you must not allow provocative people to enter and to use the holy places for their political use. It has nothing to do with religion; if you want to provoke you will not be allowed on the Temple Mount.”
Barkat said the law against incitement applies to all citizens, including right-wing MKs who have spurred Arab rioting by visiting the site.
“No matter your title, no matter your religion: If you want to provoke, there will be no entry,” he continued.
In terms of the city-wide school strike that commenced on Thursday as there are not enough security guards to watch every entrance to the high schools and middle schools, Barkat said he is in talks with Arab and Jewish principals to assure them they will receive the funding necessary to add watchmen.
“I met with the schools leaders yesterday to determine how to get the kids back to school,” he said. “The strike will end when we get what we need: the necessary funding to fulfill the security needs of the schools, as defined by the police.”
There is a uniform lack of funding for the security of secondary schools in all of Jerusalem, he said, in the secular, national-religious, ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors.
To end the strike, Barkat said the government must provide NIS 14 million to fund the additional security personnel needed at 460 of the capital’s at-risk schools.
Presently, he said, schools receive funding only for security until 1:30 p.m., despite that fact that many remain open until 5 p.m.