Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat called for “strict and fierce police work” in the wake of another terror attack in the capital on Wednesday and said he would battle for the preservation of the status quo on the Temple Mount, pushing back against those seeking to alter it from both sides.
Barkat spoke with The Times of Israel on the phone hours after Ibrahim al-Akary, a Hamas supporter, plowed into a crowd of people in Jerusalem, killing Border Police guard Jedan Assad, and wounding 14 others.
Al-Akary, whose brother Musa was convicted of killing a Border Police officer in 1992 and released in the 2011 deal to free Gilad Shalit, got out of his car wielding a metal rod and was killed by police officers on the scene.
The attack came as tensions in the capital have been heightened, with near daily clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian youths in a number of East Jerusalem hotspots.
Israel police have arrested 1,000 suspects since the onset of violence and indicted 300 people, mostly for rioting, stone-throwing, and vandalism.
Barkat, a firm believer in a unified future for the city, under Israeli rule, described a three-pronged approach to restoring the calm in the capital.
The rioting and vandalism in the predominantly Arab neighborhoods of the city, he suggested, will swiftly be brought under control by an increased police presence – there are currently 1,000 police officers in the eastern part of the city – heightened technological means such as surveillance balloons and drones, and a shift in attitude.
Police have touted the beefed up presence as part of their effort to crack down on the riots, though there have been several flare-ups of violence, including the shooting of a Jewish activist who lobbied for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount.
Over the past few years, Barkat said, police were deployed along the East-West seam line rather than in the neighborhoods, which created “a vacuum that a lot of trouble resided in.”
Recently, in light of the attacks, he said the police had altered its attitude and its deployment, operating within the neighborhoods. He advocated for the use of “very, very clear aggressive force against violence” and said “there is no other way unfortunately.”
The police today, on account of constant tension and occasional violence on and around the light rail track, is “restructuring and re-thinking” its deployment, he said.
Barkat rejected out of hand the notion of establishing a police barrier that would reduce friction between the two halves of the city.
Dismissing alienation or economic hardship as root causes for what are known as “popular terror attacks,” he said that Israel must demolish the homes of terrorists as punishment and use all legal measures at the government’s disposal to deter attackers.
It must be clear that “not only will you pay with your life,” he said of the terrorists, all of whom have been killed during or after the attacks, “but you will pay a heavy price.”
Much of the violence has revolved around the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif, the holiest site to Jews and the third most holy site in Islam,
Barkat acknowledged that Muslims seek to bar Jews from entering the compound altogether and that Jews, including MKs, have increasingly sought to expand their rights and be allowed to pray at the holy site, but said he “respects the status quo.”
That arrangement has come under constant strain of late. On October 29, shortly after PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah prayed at the Dome of the Rock, an Islamist assassin shot Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick at point-blank range, critically wounding him and further focusing the tension and violence on the religious element of the conflict.
Jewish MKs such as Moshe Feiglin and Tzipi Hotovely, both proponents of Jewish prayer on the site, subsequently insisted on visiting the Temple Mount, drawing condemnation from King Abdullah of Jordan and further ratcheting up the tension.
The preservation of the status quo around the Dome of the Rock and the reduction of violence in the Arab neighborhoods, he said, would likely reduce the desire of individuals to commit violent acts.
The current arrangement, Barkat acknowledged, is “not best for either side,” but it is the “best way to live together.” He added that it “should be very, very clear that the national government and the Jerusalem Police will do anything we can to maintain the status quo and fight all extremists.”