Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat rejected UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments made during Wednesday’s weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in parliament.
While Barkat said that Britain is a good and important friend of Israel and of Jerusalem, he contended that Prime Minister Cameron was mistaken due to his unfamiliarity with the reality and facts on the ground.
Cameron had described construction in the Old City as “shocking” in response to a question asked by Labor MP Imran Hussain who alleged that an elderly Arab woman by the name of Nora was being forced out of her home by “Israeli settlers” in the eastern part of the city.
“It is incredibly important and I am well known as being a strong friend of Israel, but I have to say that the first time that I visited Jerusalem and had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what has happened with the effective encirclement of east Jerusalem, occupied east Jerusalem, it is genuinely shocking,” Cameron said.
Cameron maintained that the UK remains a strong friend of Israel, but that “we do not support illegal settlement, we do not support what is happening, and it is very important that this capital city is maintained as it was in the past.”
Barkat sardonically asked what construction Cameron finds so shocking: “Is it the newest and most advanced schools that we are building there? Is it the new roads that we are paving there? The childcare or the recreational centers? Where exactly does the Palestinian Authority invest in this way?”
He went on to cite international polls which he claimed indicate that Arab residents of the city prefer a united Jerusalem and suggested that Britain finally accept this as well. The mayor also highlighted the contrast between the lives of Arabs in Jerusalem with those in surrounding Arab countries while issuing a verbal jab at Britain itself.
“The situation of the residents of the city is significantly better than those in the countries which surround us and, needless to say, than the situation during the British Mandate in Israel,” Barkat charged.
He argued that all citizens in Jerusalem as in London have the right to live where they choose, irrespective of religion, race, or gender.
Barkat concluded by referring to Cameron as a “true friend of Israel” and by extending an informal invitation to the British prime minister to join him for a personal tour of the city. “I invite him to come and see how we have minimized the social gaps in eastern Jerusalem and I invite him to promote connections, developments, and local cooperation together with us instead of building walls and conflicts in the heart of Jerusalem.”
Despite comments made by Cameron in 2010 describing Israel’s response to the Mavi Marmara flotilla as “completely unacceptable” and Gaza as a “prison camp,” he staunchly defended Israel during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and he has recently announced legislative plans against the boycott of Israel.