Struggling to provide municipal services to Arab neighborhoods beyond the security barrier, Jerusalem city officials have turned to the IDF for advice on hiring contractors to accommodate thousands of residents isolated from both Israel and the Palestinian territories, Mayor Nir Barkat said Thursday.
The move to ask the Civil Administration in the West Bank, the Israel Defense Forces body tasked with civil matters in the Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank, comes a month after the city was rapped by the High Court for failing to provide basic services, such as mail and water supply, in Arab neighborhoods of the city beyond the fence.
“It’s tougher to serve the Arab neighborhoods on the other side of the fence,” Barkat admitted in a conversation with journalists at his office Thursday.
“It’s tougher because [municipal service providers] need more police escort. However, when you want to create change, you start with the easy places and then, in the next phases, its easier to go to other places.”
The court asked City Hall to justify the extreme gaps in services between Jewish West Jerusalem and Arab neighborhoods lying beyond the municipal concrete barrier in the East.
While most of Jerusalem, including the eastern side of the city captured in 1967, sits west of the barrier, several Arab neighborhoods, namely Shuafat Refugee Camp, Ras Khamis and Ras Shehadah, were left on the east side of the wall but still inside the city, creating what some officials have described as a no-go zone inside the capital.
The number of Palestinian residents excluded by the barrier was recently estimated by the Israeli water company Mekorot at 80,000.
Barkat, who has been serving as Jerusalem’s mayor since 2008 and is considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, raised the ire of politicians on the right when in 2011 he was quoted as saying that he believed the city should redraw it borders based on the position of the barrier.
“We should forgo municipal areas outside of it and annex territories trapped on the Israeli side, which are not under the city’s municipal jurisdiction,” he told graduates of the National Security Academy, according to news website NRG.
But on Thursday, Barkat sounded confident that Jerusalem should practice its sovereignty on both sides of the security barrier, through an equal level of services across the city.
“Clearly, we intend to have everything also on the other side of the fence,” he said. “But as an entrepreneur, you start with areas where you can show a proof of concept and create a positive experience in the Arab neighborhoods [within the barrier], and then you scale.”
Barkat said he has asked Netanyahu for additional assistance to serve neighborhoods beyond the barrier.
“I’m talking about budgets and [army] escorting,” he said. “We could probably outsource services we need to provide. We asked the Civil Administration to help us do outsourcing on the other side, at our expense. I’m committed to serve residents on the other side of the fence as well, even if it’s tougher.”
Addressing the wave of violence which plagued the city following the apparently nationalistic kidnapping and murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammed Abu Khdeir last July, Barkat opined that rioting in Arab East Jerusalem reflected more an educational crisis than a political one.
“The violence came from teenagers, mostly under the age of 18,” he said. “The Facebook generation across the world doesn’t listen to its parents, or anyone else.”
The Jerusalem Municipality has devised a carrot and stick approach to tackle disturbances to public order, he said.
The plan includes a longer school day, ending at 6 p.m., filled with sports and other extracurricular activities to keep East Jerusalem teenagers off the streets. On the other hand, Barkat vowed to deploy more policemen in Arab neighborhoods and maintain “a very tough and aggressive” stance against “those who take the law into their own hands.”
Education is also an acute problem in Arab East Jerusalem, Barkat acknowledged, with a shortage of some 1,000 classrooms and a high dropout rate. He insisted, however, the the problem is similar in scope to that of the city’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
In the Arab neighborhoods, the municipality is trying to tackle the crisis by building an additional 100 classrooms a year (which he hopes will double to 200); convincing women to postpone marriage until after graduation; and by using the Israeli bagrut matriculation exam to supplant the Palestinian tawjihi in Arab schools.
“The majority of Arab residents realize there’s already positive change,” he said.