New York City mayor Bill de Blasio visited victims of a recent terror wave in Jerusalem Saturday as part of a “solidarity visit,” saying that pain felt by Jerusalem was also being felt by his city.
De Blasio and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat visited three victims of stabbing attacks in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center, including one American citizen, telling a press conference afterward that what he saw was “life affirming.”
“We feel extraordinary closeness, our people, by blood, by history,” de Blasio said. “So when you are going through pain, we feel pain too. When you’re under attack, we feel under attack, and I’m honored to be here in that spirit of solidarity and sense of common destiny.”
“The stories I’ve heard, in the midst of this pain, in the midst of this challenge, can only be described as inspiring. and somehow life affirming,” he added. “It’s a hard thing to imagine at this difficult moment, but what’s happening here reminds us what could be and will be one day.”
The hospital is considered a rare model of co-existence in deeply divided Jerusalem, with a mixed Jewish-Arab medical team working together to treat the city’s wounded and infirm. The medical center prides itself on checking politics at the door and treating Palestinian attackers and Jewish victims alike.
Among those de Blasio met with was Maria Veldman, an American born nurse and foster mother to 20 Arab children.
“You could see the stab wound on her chest. And instead of talking about anger and hatred, she talked about love and a desire to resume her mission,” de Blasio said, according to the New York Daily News.
“You can’t think about acts of terrorism like this in the abstract when you meet the victims and you meet the families. It becomes very real,” he said. “There can’t be peace when civilians are wantonly attacked just for going about their business.”
Barkat, alongside de Blasio, thanked the mayor for his visit and said the attacks in Jerusalem had the same “evil” source as the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
“The visit is an expression of the true friendship and solidarity between residents of New York and Jerusalem,” he said. “I have no doubt that just as New York residents overcame terror, so can Jerusalem soon return to normalcy.”
De Blasio’s visit came as Israel is fighting a wave of stabbing attacks and other violence, much of it centered around Jerusalem. Saturday alone saw five attempting stabbings against Israeli civilians and police, according to officials, including three in Hebron, one in Jerusalem, and one at a West Bank checkpoint next to the capital.
He is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.
Earlier Saturday, de Blasio condemned the wave of terror attacks.
“It’s a painful moment here in Israel, it’s a moment when I am certainly here in solidarity with the people of Israel,” de Blasio said during a visit with students from a mixed Israeli-Palestinian school. “This has to stop obviously. Look, these are attacks on civilians … No one should be condoning attacks against civilians.”
De Blasio met Saturday with his Tel Aviv counterpart, Ron Huldai, in the seaside city before attending an event in the central town of Beit Shemesh sponsored by the school, Hand in Hand. The Jerusalem school, which was targeted by Jewish arsonists last year, is another rare symbol of coexistence in Jerusalem.
Ahead of his trip, de Blasio said the visit has “taken on extra meaning now because of the crisis in Israel” and said it was “very important to stand in solidarity with Israel.”
“I don’t want to pretend to understand the nuances of the situation,” he said. “I think it is important as an outsider to not claim to know more than I do. I think this is a larger human reality that peace is necessary.”
A trip to Israel is a staple for New York mayors, who represent a large Jewish constituency. This is de Blasio’s first visit as mayor and his fourth overall.
Aides said de Blasio considered a trip to the West Bank, but that has been scuttled because of security concerns. He is not scheduled to meet with any Palestinian leaders.
The three-day trip is being paid for by Baruch Eliezer Gross, a Brooklyn resident and founder of the Besadno Group, an investment firm with offices in Jerusalem and New York.
The city’s Conflict of Interest Board approved the donation. De Blasio said it was “absolutely appropriate” and noted that the gift prevented taxpayers from being burdened with the cost of the trip.
This the first of de Blasio’s international trips to paid for by an individual.
The latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian unrest began last month with clashes at the Temple Mount, the flashpoint Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims that houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians claim that Israel intends to the change the status quo at the site, where Jews are allowed to visit but not pray, a claim that Israel strenuously denies.
Eight Israelis have been killed this month and many others wounded in more than 30 Palestinian terror attacks, most of them stabbings. On the Palestinian side, 40 have been killed, including 18 attackers. The rest died in clashes with IDF troops either in the West Bank or along the Gaza border. Two of the casualties, a pregnant woman and her two-year-old daughter, were killed in Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on October 11, which came in response to an earlier rocket attack.