With another Jerusalem Day (May 17) passing us by, we are once again witnesses to the usual platitudes from our leaders. We again hear the speeches about the unity of our capital and how it will never be divided again. These notions are of course all true, but Jerusalem is much more than an idea. It is a living city that must be safe for its inhabitants, and it must continue to grow and expand in a manner befitting of Israel’s largest city.
Over the past year we have seen an unfortunate rise in rioting and violence by Arab extremists in Jerusalem. The situation became too analogous to what happened on our border with Gaza following the disastrous 2005 disengagement. The residents of the border communities in the south endured unending rocket and mortar attacks for years, but the rest of the country only took notice when tragedy occurred or the terrorists begin to target population centers in the center of the country.
Similarly, too many of our political leaders only began to take notice after attacks that result in the murder or injury of civilians. It is unfortunate that it has taken fatalities, or violent incidents in the larger and more established Jewish neighborhoods, for the general public to take notice.
Another issue plaguing our capital is insufficient construction and development. Despite repeated pledges by our government, growth in too many neighborhoods remains stagnant. While we all say that Jerusalem is of utmost importance to our people, this does not fit with the current state of affairs in the capital.
For starters, we must immediately implement both short and long-term strategies to resolve this unacceptable situation in Jerusalem. Our security forces must immediately increase their operations deep in the Arab neighborhoods. The police officers have the training and know-how to deal with the rioters and should not be limited to “containing” those who break the law to specific neighborhoods. We should instead confront the criminals, without fear, on their home turf.
For the longer-term, we should look to the example of New York City. When faced with rising violence and crime in his city, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani implemented the now-famous “broken windows theory.” While everyone understood that the homicides and drug trade were completely unacceptable, Giuliani argued that to eliminate serious crime over time, a zero-tolerance policy was also needed for seemingly insignificant quality-of-life crimes. The results soon followed, with all categories of crime seriously declining throughout Giuliani’s tenure.
This is what is needed now in Jerusalem. We must immediately end the soft hand of law enforcement in the eastern neighborhoods that has endured for too long. Every stone thrown at a school bus must result in arrest and conviction. Every tombstone overturned in the historic Mount of Olives cemetery should be treated as an attack on our forefathers. Each time a light rail station is vandalized, the video recording of the attack should be analyzed and the perpetrators should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. If the current laws are not tough enough, then we as members of the Knesset must work to rectify this in an expedited fashion.
At the same time, a new master plan is needed for Jerusalem’s growth. International events over the past few years have taught us that we cannot allow pressure from abroad to force us to sacrifice our values. Now is the right moment to announce a massive increase in housing construction and business development in all parts of Jerusalem. Whatever condemnations and threats come our way as the result of this action must not deter the State of Israel from continuing to develop one of our most important assets—the historical heart and current political capital of our great nation.
Despite these issues that must be resolved, it is always important to keep in mind that there is also the Jerusalem far removed from the media spotlight. Life goes on as usual in most of the city, with people going to work and children attending schools and nurseries, as is the case in the rest of the country. It is our job as leaders to put an end to the lawlessness and further develop Jerusalem before the negative trends succeed in changing the situation and overtaking the brave resilience of Jerusalemites.
Now is the time for bold action from everyone, from the police officers on the street to the new cabinet ministers in our government. Only by staunchly confronting the rioters in their neighborhoods, while simultaneously enacting a zero-tolerance policy towards all crime, can we hope to return full peace and security to our eternal capital. At the same time, Jerusalem must be built up and developed in a serious manner that befits the city of Kings David, Solomon, and Herod. This is the Jerusalem that Jews throughout the ages have yearned for and this is the capital that the State of Israel deserves.
Member of Knesset Danny Danon is a member of Israel’s 34th government and serves as Minister of Science, Technology and Space.