Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat likes to present himself to a Western audience as the head of an open, pluralistic city, a place at ease with its ethnic and religious diversity, despite complex "security" challenges. The reality is somewhat different.
As reported in Haaretz (with thanks to Ofer Neiman for translation), while speaking recently with Likud party members, Barkat boasted of inflicting collective punishment on Palestinian neighbourhoods of Occupied East Jerusalem. According to the newspaper:
[Barkat] took pride…in the cooperation which he had initiated between the municipality, the police and Shabak [Shin Bet], to punish Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem or their relatives who are suspected of terror acts or riots, by using the municipality's enforcement mechanisms against them.
In addition, the report added: "Barkat also justified the policy of placing the concrete barriers around the Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem, as means of pressure on the residents to act against terror." In other words, clear and explicit collective punishment.
The context for Barkat's meeting with Likud activists in Jerusalem, Haaretz reported, is efforts by the mayor "to establish a strong camp within the ruling party." He has thus "devoted a substantial part of his time [in recent months] to meetings with Likud members."
During this latest gathering, Barkat elaborated on his approach to Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. "Civilian-security [level] cooperation," he said, "of which the majority of the public is not aware, has been created." He went on:
We have developed several very interesting models. The first one is cooperation between Shabak [Shin Bet], the police and enforcement authorities in the municipality. We have sat together and developed models, with which we are very pleased, which do not exist elsewhere, and those who can understand this – will.
Barkat added: "All of a sudden, the bad residents understand that the public system knows how to work together, and all of a sudden being evil is unpleasant, it's unpleasant to be on the other side."
A recording of excerpts of Barkat's remarks was also released by NGO Ir Amim. As translated on 972mag, Barkat proudly stated:
I've requested closures and curfews in Jerusalem…We've put nearly 30 closures (in place). If you walk around the entrance and exit of the (Palestinian) villages today, you'll see concrete blocks…This philosophy creates a very high level of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in the city.
The frank remarks are not surprising; under Barkat's watch, Jerusalem has become "a fortress city of surveillance balloons, running battles and protest." In November 2014, struggling to deal with a youth-led, grassroots rebellion, Jerusalem officials embraced "a widespread crackdown on the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem." As Al Jazeera reported:
Small businesses have been shuttered for unpaid bills, or for lacking the proper licenses. Livestock have been confiscated. One resident of the Old City, Sa'eed Shaloudi, was even ordered to remove his home's water heater because it was installed without permission.
The same month, Israeli commentator Nahum Barnea described how then-Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen "believes devoutly in collective punishment as a deterrent – prison sentences and fines for the parents of children caught throwing stones, house demolitions, deportations to Gaza, pressure on the population by means of tax collection by force." Barnea added: "Nir Barkat shares his views."
A year on, in September 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan approved a plan that the police "admit…have an aspect of collective punishment." The "goal", as reported by Haaretz, "is to increase the pressure on East Jerusalem residents, and cause them to restrain the stone-throwers and rioters themselves."
All of which was before the uptick in violence that emerged the following month, and has continued, with ebbs and flows, for the last year. In Jerusalem, one of Israel's responses to the revolt of October 2015 was a more obvious collective punishment measure; physical restrictions on access.
Dozens of checkpoints and closures were imposed across East Jerusalem, positioned at entry points to Palestinian communities. On October 19, a 65-year-old Palestinian woman died after being delayed at a checkpoint, as a six-minute drive to hospital was turned into a 45-minute journey.
Nir Barkat has proved himself to be a fitting mayor for a city shaped by annexation and occupation. Just recently, Barkat declared that a proposed cable car will include a stop in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan so that riders will "understand who really owns this city".
Meanwhile, authorities have demolished 121 Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem in 2016 to date (up to 5 September); the total figure for all of 2015 was 78. A snapshot of the human cost; earlier this month, 53-year-old Nabih Al-Basti was forced to demolish his family home, built 19 years earlier, to avoid heavy fines if municipal officials carried out the demolition themselves.
This is a mayor, remember, who sees non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem as a threat. "Twenty years ago, Jerusalem was 70 per cent Jewish and 30 per cent Arab, which is the government's goal," Barkat said in 2010. "Today, the relation is around 65 per cent to 35 per cent, which constitutes a strategic threat to Jerusalem." In other words, he is an unashamed racist.
Barkat likes to reject criticism of policies such as settlement construction by asserting that Jerusalem is no different from "any other city in the world". But official policies of collective punishment and colonial displacement, in which he takes such pride, paint a picture of a uniquely apartheid city.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.