Step up to the plate, Mr. Mayor

Nir Barkat, instead of blaming others, must convene an emergency meeting to respond to these very basic demands of the residents of east Jerusalem.

November 6, 2014 22:19
3 minute read.
Terror attack in Jerusalem

Nir Barkat at scene of terror attack in Jerusalem, Nov 5.. (photo credit: JERUSALEM FIRE DEPARTMENT)


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Earlier this month, while on a trip to southern Sinai, I visited the Suez Canal. Since it was a Friday, I decided to attend the weekly sermon at the Bad’r Mosque.

The sheikh or imam began with unprecedented criticism of the attack in El-Arish earlier that week, in which 30 Egyptian soldiers had been killed and another 40 had been wounded. He warned against Islamic groups that tend toward destruction and death, which are forbidden by Islam, and called on the Muslim world to wake up and fight against these extremists.

Unless the Muslim world reclaims itself, Islam will become the most backward religion in the world.

The Prophet Muhammad, the imam continued, had come to historic agreements with other religions. Referring specifically to the Jews, the imam reminded the worshipers that Muhammad had said that as the Muslims have their religion, so, too, do the Jews, and therefore they must be respected. The Prophet Muhammad, he declared, had forbidden the killing of innocent civilians of any faith.

I was astounded. I had never heard such a sermon – not in Palestine and not in Jordan.

Why, I wondered, aren’t the imams in other countries trying to create peace within Islam and between Muslims and others? Admiring the imam’s courage, I could not but think of Chaya Zissel Braun, only three months old, and Karen Yemima Muscara, in her 20s, who were heinously murdered by a Palestinian man in Jerusalem a few days earlier.

The murderer claimed to have been a religious man.

If Islam contends that those who martyr themselves by killing innocents will enjoy 70 virgins in heaven – then may this murdered meet only one, 70-year-old, virgin.

Over the past few weeks, Jerusalem has been burning.

But the violence is not organized – it is a vengeful response to the current situation and not nationalistically motivated. And so I was surprised to hear the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, contend that the public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, is not doing enough to quell the unrest. In my opinion, the source of that unrest is the mayor himself and his policies in east Jerusalem.

True, the Palestinian Authority would like to stoke the fires of the conflict in Jerusalem. Conflict in Jerusalem could both jump-start the stalled negotiations and help to bring the Palestinian question back to the international table, since it has been recently pushed aside by Islamic State. But the Palestinian Authority hasn’t been able to fire up the residents of east Jerusalem, because most of them have no interest in being under the rule of the PA, either.

I’ve talked with some of the young men who are throwing stones. One told me that he was throwing stones because the municipal authorities destroyed his house. Another told me that the authorities had forbidden his parents from making the holy pilgrimage to Mecca because of a debt in their municipal taxes.

A third said the he was throwing rocks because he is forced to live among piles of garbage, because the municipality refuses to provide municipal services to his neighborhood.

All of these issues are the responsibility of the mayor, not the public security minister.

Indeed, some of the youths told me that they are targeting the light rail with their stones because it belongs to the municipality. They aren’t aiming at buses, he explained, because it is municipal property that they want to damage.

The mayor, instead of blaming others, must convene an emergency meeting to respond to these very basic demands of the residents of east Jerusalem.

In the past, Israeli mayors tried to control the city by co-opting mukhtars (village elders) and other dignitaries, who served as intermediaries between the municipality and the residents. But this doesn’t work anymore; the institution of dignitaries no longer has any influence. The mayor himself will have to go into the neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and hear the legitimate complaints of the residents of his city.

Jerusalem may be on fire, but the vast majority of Jerusalemites, Arab and Jewish alike, do not want to see their city go up in flames. They want calm and public order.

This is the mayor’s responsibility.

The writer is a human rights activist and a political analyst.

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