Police announced a NIS 1 billion restructuring initiative to heighten security in the capital’s largely volatile eastern Arab sector Tuesday night, featuring five new stations in flashpoint neighborhoods, 1,200 additional officers, and nearly 200 extra CCTV cameras.
Citing the relative lawlessness of the east compared to the west, Jerusalem Police Chief Yoram Halevy said the move is intended to “strengthen and deepen the rule of law throughout Jerusalem, and in the villages of east Jerusalem.”
The new stations will be built in Jabel Mukaber, Issawiya, Beit Safafa, A-Tur, Shuafat, and Sur Baher. They are intended to monitor terrorist activity in the neighborhoods, as well as crime, Halevy said.
Noting the perceived threat many Palestinians feel by law enforcement, Halevy said he will appoint municipal officials to work at each station to spearhead community outreach in an effort to lower tensions.
Additionally, remarking on the success of Mabat 2000, the state-of-the-art police headquarters in the Old City using hundreds of CCTV cameras to monitor nearly every square meter of public space there, Halevy said that 193 cameras will be added throughout east Jerusalem.
“The plan is intended to make changes to adapt to the security situation, while meeting the daily needs of local residents and helping to improve the quality of life in the public spaces with enforcement and deterrence against drug offenders, weapons offenders, property crime, and violence,” Halevy said.
There are presently 3,500 officers from a breadth of units stationed in Jerusalem. The new initiative will increase that number to an unprecedented 4,700.
While Jerusalem officers are offered special incentives and benefits to work in the capital, a new national recruitment campaign has so far only recruited 200 of the 1,200 troops needed due to the intensive and unpredictable nature of the work.
According to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, the strategic measure – being carried out in coordination with the Internal Security Ministry, police, and Jerusalem Municipality – is a critical part of a long-term plan to improve security across the capital, in both Jewish and Israeli-Arab neighborhoods.
“Part of that plan is to open further police stations and police points within a wide range of neighborhoods, and have police officers that can support the community in a more in-depth manner,” said Rosenfeld.
“For example, if someone needs to file a complaint, they will have a local police station within the neighborhood that they can go to, rather than having to go to one of the larger police stations. So, they will have much more access.”
Moreover, Rosenfeld said the heightened police presence will provide invaluable support within the neighborhoods in real time, while also improving living conditions.
“The idea is not just to go in there and patrol, we’re talking about easier access to the communities and the people living inside the communities by making them safer,” he said.
However, east Jerusalem residents and community leaders uniformly expressed distaste on Wednesday over police plans.
Citing an already heightened police presence in the eastern portion of the capital, Amin, a 24-year-old accountant and Silwan resident, who requested his last name not be published, said additional troops will make a “bad situation even worse.”
“It’s a big problem, because we are the Arab people here and we think this is an occupation, and adding more police stations here will not make the situation good,” said Amin, while waiting for a bus near Damascus Gate.
“It is a mistake, because when I see more police I think, ‘OK, they will close our streets, they will come into our homes, and I will have to leave for work an hour earlier because there will be more checkpoints.’”
Dima Asfour, 29, of Beit Safafa, who works as a community worker in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, echoed Amin’s sentiments, noting that the already heightened police presence there has been futile.
“We are not shocked by this, but it will choke us even more,” said Asfour. “We are already choking inside the Old City and inside Jerusalem. Every meter we walk, we just see a soldier or more police, and they think it’s security, but it’s not security at all. We feel more endangered.
“There’s no place in the world where you walk on the street and see as many police as this, so it’s weird; it’s not security at all for us. Maybe in their minds it’s secure for them, but it’s not secure for us, because their existence is giving a chance for something bad to happen.”
“More police, more problems,” summarized Asfour. “More soldiers, more problems.”
Muhammad Deckeideck, 18, a student and part-time worker from Wadi al-Joz, described the move as an overreaction, and provocation.
“They overreact to everything, and think that everything they see with their eyes they can supervise and take immediate action to control the situation,” said Deckeideck.
“But actually, the more police there are, people get antagonized more. As you saw a few months ago during this revolution, they think they need to put more pressure on the people so that anyone who tries to do anything will think a thousand more times about doing it.
“But the [Arab] people are not interested in doing anything that will make the police’s lives harder, or harder on themselves… it will make things more difficult when police are all over because it makes people feel afraid and suspicious, even if they are not doing anything wrong. People think that if they are being watched, they are going to suspect me, search me, and make my day harder, so I don’t think it will help.”
Deckeideck added that the NIS 1 billion being allocated for the project would be better used to help improve east Jerusalem’s dilapidated infrastructure and struggling school system.
“They could use the money to fix the streets and improve our education,” he said.
Former east Jerusalem portfolio head and Meretz City Councilman, Meir Margalit, concurred.
“If the government would invest the same amount of money in education and social welfare, the results would be 10 times better than the money that is being invested in police stations,” he said.
“Someone in the government doesn’t understand that what east Jerusalem needs is more education and more welfare, not more policemen. The police are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem.”
Moreover, Margalit contended that the initiative is further proof that government leaders are disconnected from the Palestinian reality on the ground.
“This is not the way to solve the problems in east Jerusalem,” he said. “The educational and welfare situation is so bad that 1 million policemen will not contain the next intifada.”