Mayor Moshe Lion and Arab residents of Jerusalem - EXCLUSIVE

In an interview, Mayor Moshe Lion discussed his policy toward Arab residents, his plans to solve the illegal construction issue, and what stood behind his visit to the hospital.

(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Less than a week after his visit to Malik Eissa, the nine-year-old boy from Isawiya who lost an eye after being shot by police with a rubber bullet, Mayor Moshe Lion sat down with In Jerusalem for an exclusive interview on his policy toward Arab residents, his plans to solve the illegal construction issue, and what stood behind his visit to the hospital.
Why did you decide to visit Malik at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Karem? Was it because of the editorial written by Haaretz columnist Rogel Alpher, who urged you to do so?
It has absolutely nothing to do with it. I heard about that editorial two days after my visit. I didn’t even know until now who wrote it. I have witnesses here that already by Tuesday I had told my assistants that I planned to go visit on Saturday evening, and that’s what I did.
If not because of the editorial, then why?
I am a father and a grandfather, and the mayor of all the residents of Jerusalem. This is really a sad story, especially in that this boy was not involved in anything. He was just coming back home from the grocery store. I was really very touched. The family, and the boy himself, are such sweet people. I was warmly welcomed and I plan to keep in touch with them in the future.
OK, let’s go back to what happened during the past few months in Isawiya, with police in the neighborhood and hundreds of people arrested. In Israel, a mayor is not above the city’s police chief, but did you use your position to reduce police activity in Isawiya? Did you try to convince Jerusalem Police Chief Doron Yadid to reduce arrests?
I am in touch with the chief of police. We talk very often. He briefs me routinely. I don’t mean to reveal the content of these talks, but I believe he made the right decisions and acted on the ground as necessary. He is in charge of the security of the city’s residents, not only on the Jewish side, but also Arab residents, most of whom are not involved in disruptions in Isawiya or elsewhere in the city. We all know that it is only a small number of residents involved, and we talked a lot about the situation in Isawiya. It is not simple.

But you are a man of dialogue, couldn’t you be more involved?
I have been in and still am in continued contact with residents of the neighborhood, principals of schools and parents. I have invited them to come here, to my office, something that no mayor ever did before me. This is my method. I do a lot but talk very little. I believe that’s the best way to obtain good results.

Is this a typical political attitude?
I am absolutely not a politician. My plan was to reach an agreement with the residents of Isawiya. We built a beautiful playground. Then I visited the neighborhood to learn about the problems and the needs. And I was warmly welcomed, since despite the sufferings during the police activities there, they understand that the calm has to be kept, and from now on, we work together.
Have you tried to convince the police chief to operate differently, to use your methods of dialogue instead of the brutal arrests which went on for seven months?
I am not going to reveal the content of these private talks, but yes, I have raised that aspect, too. These were not one-sided talks. I also said what I thought, but the bottom line is, he is responsible for security. I have to say that he did convince me that he acted in the right manner. And the fact is that now Isawiya is quiet. And by the way, during all these months, the children went to school without interruption. But for me, this is past and now I am focusing on what we are doing now and tomorrow.

Will you focus now on easing housing construction in Arab neighborhoods?
Nobody is opposed to construction projects on the east side. But the illegal construction is tremendous. This is not only a problem of legal or illegal; the illegal construction prevents us from building according to the master plan, since they [illegal construction projects] are on roads or public venues. So we have to solve this issue first.
Did this influence your decision to freeze demolitions in Isawiya for six months?

Yes, this is a pilot plan. If it succeeds, what cannot remain will be demolished, but wherever it is possible, we will give permits. Then we shall implement the same for all the other Arab neighborhoods.