“In absolute numbers, there’s been a dramatic decrease in violence in the capital over the past few weeks,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told The Jerusalem Post in his City Hall office Tuesday afternoon.
Asked to what he attributes the decrease, Barkat first noted enforcement of the status quo on the Temple Mount, which many say has become ground zero in the capital’s so-called “religious war.”
“The national government, the police, and I have been very clear that we will not allow violence to deter us from the status quo,” he said. “As a matter of fact, over the last four weeks we have brought the Temple Mount back to the framework before the violence – meaning that all Muslims, with no limitation, are on the mount, and Jews are able to get on the mount and not pray.
The second point the mayor cited in reducing violence in the city has been the rapid deployment of extra police whenever violence develops, coupled by working to restore normality to the city.
“Police now arrive at the scenes of violence in under two minutes,” he said. “Also, we have to remember all the time that the goal of the terrorist is to deter us from day-to- day life. They want us to be afraid. They want to stop us from going to shows, to work, to restaurants, but the Jews of Jerusalem are here to stay.”
“We’re not going to go anywhere, we’re not going to run away,” he continued. “If anything [terrorists] will pay the price. So the message is: Move on with life… It’s the best way every single resident can help us fight terrorism.”
Noting that the vast majority of violence is carried out by minors who enjoy a degree of legal immunity due to their age, Barkat deemed the phenomenon “unacceptable.”
“The process where young kids are violent, are caught by the police and then go back to the streets and actually continue to be more violent must, and will, stop,” he said. “In order to do that, you must give the police the tools and the ability to punish the people responsible.”
Those tools, he contended, include dramatically increasing punishments for rock throwing as well as fire works and firebomb attacks.
“The recommendation I give to the national government is make sure the punishment is a deterrent; anything that will get the job done according to the law,” he said. “I leave the actual punishments to the legislature, but the goal is that the punishment has to be severe enough that it will deter people from becoming violent.”
With respect to rampant, and patently false, claims in the Arab media that Israel plans on taking over and destroying Al-Aksa Mosque, Barkat said a counter-campaign must be undertaken to decrease such incitement, which has fueled a number of terrorist attacks, including the attempted assassination of Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick in October.
“We must be very, very clear about the truth to make sure the message is consistent: that since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, all national governments have been committed to the status quo and it will not change,” he said.
Barkat continued: “We also must attack those inciting violence around the Temple Mount, or any other kind of incitement. It has to be dealt with by the national government, including by increasing punishment for incitement so that people understand that if they incite religiously or otherwise, they will be punished by law.”
Asked how security has changed since the Har Nof massacre, during which two terrorists murdered five Israelis, Barkat said armed guards must be stationed at city synagogues to form a protective barrier.
“The ability to secure the synagogue and any other public place, and to sound an alarm for fast deployment of police who can arrive in under two minutes gives the best solution, and we’re now by far better organized than we were in the past,” he said.
Additionally, Barkat said, powerful deterrents, including the proposed deportation of a terrorist’s family members, must be utilized.
“The motivation here is that if somebody commits such a terrible terror attack – and if people from his home sent him there, helped incite him, call him a martyr and actually support the terrorist attack – they must pay a heavy price,” he said.
Moreover, the mayor said that he is unmoved by critics who argue that such collective punishment is undemocratic.
“Life is more important than quality of life, and this is not a regular crime – we’re talking about national crime threatening Israel as a state,” he said.
“In this case the environment that sent him there will pay a price, and I feel extremely comfortable that terrorists and their senders will pay a price.
Regarding those who argue that the homes of Jews who kill Arabs should be destroyed if Arab terrorists’ homes are demolished, Barkat said that overwhelming Jewish condemnation of murder versus Arab exultation of killers negates the need for such a measure.
“Unfortunately, with terrorists attacks, this is incitement made by the families, by their environment, and nationally they want to destroy Israel,” he said. “I don’t know of any Jews who supported the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. We have 31 council members and not one of them supported the murder. On the contrary, we all condemned it.”
“On the other hand,” he added, “if you go to a terrorist’s home everybody calls him a martyr and wants other people to do the same thing. It’s a huge difference in the motivation of the environment.”
Meanwhile, Barkat said the municipality continues to invest in east Jerusalem’s foundering infrastructure, while actively reaching out to Arab community leaders to lower tensions.
“We have extremely intimate relationships with local Arab leadership in different neighborhoods and schools and business people, and if anything they all know and recognize and admit that under my administration we are catching up in terms of investments in building more schools, classrooms, and infrastructure,” he said.
Still, Barkat added, diplomacy cannot be substituted for violence.
“The violence will be dealt with by the police,” he said. “Period.”