Less than 48 hours after a nightclub in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood was struck by Molotov cocktails thrown by Palestinians living nearby, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz met with members of both communities to discuss improving increasingly strained relations.
On Saturday night three petrol bombs were hurled at the club, located near the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mt.
Scopus campus, by a group of Israeli-Arab residents from the adjacent Arab village of Isawiya, resulting in a minor injury and three arrests.
In response, Berkowitz (Jerusalem Awakening) invited six community leaders from Isawiya and six Jews living in French Hill to his office on Monday, to address the underpinnings of the problems leading to continued violence.
According to Berkowitz, he initiated a campaign two months ago to have the municipality invest more heavily into Isawiya’s foundering infrastructure to ease the anger of Arab residents frustrated by the incongruity of living standards between the two neighborhoods.
“A lot of their resentment stems from a lack of investment from the municipality into their community, so I began by meeting with 25 people from Isawiya and French Hill to map out the problems they are facing and to build new trust,” he said.
During that first meeting, Berkowitz said Isawiya residents cited the overall deterioration of the community’s infrastructure, including badly damaged roads, languishing schools, a lack of structured activities for youth and a dearth public space for parks and gardens.
Since then Berkowitz said approximately NIS 5 million have been raised to construct two new roads, and planning for a community garden and park is underway. Millions of shekels are being raised to build a new high school, and NIS 50,000 have been raised to fund youth activities.
Additionally, he said the municipality is investing in Isawiya’s community center and launching educational initiatives to teach Hebrew and assist residents with tax questions and concerns.
“A lot of the anger expressed by Isawiya residents is rooted in these social and quality of life issues,” said Berkowitz. “We believe that by investing more in their community to improve their living condition the violence will also go down.”
In terms of the violence that has become endemic to the area, Berkowitz said a special police unit was established three weeks ago, to exclusively patrol the two neighborhoods, and that the municipality is working with police to create better dialogue with disaffected Arab residents.
Berkowitz said a proposal to build a police station in the center of Isawiya has been submitted.
“The police understand that it’s a very sensitive situation and they’re working to create more trust with Arab residents,” he said. “It’s important that they know there has been a change in behavior on the part of the municipality, but it’s not easy to build trust.”
During Monday’s meeting Berkowitz emphasized that the police will continue to fight violence with a zero-tolerance policy, but added that “we are working to show residents that if they work with the municipality, they will get more.”
Indeed, Berkowitz said the most efficacious solution to quelling tensions is by applying a holistic approach to the problems.