(JTA) – British Prime Minister David Cameron called construction in eastern Jerusalem “genuinely shocking” during a parliamentary question period.
“I am well known for being a strong friend of Israel, but I have to say the first time I visited Jerusalem and had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what had happened with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem, occupied East Jerusalem, it is genuinely shocking,” Cameron said Wednesday in answer to a question from Labour MP Imran Hussain.
Cameron visited Israel in 2007 and toured Jerusalem, including the seam line that separates eastern Jerusalem from the rest of the city.
“What this government has consistently done and gone on doing is saying, ‘Yes, we are supporters of Israel but we do not support illegal settlement, we do not want to support what is happening in East Jerusalem, and it’s very important that this capital city is maintained the way it was in the past,’” Cameron said.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, responding to Cameron’s statements, said Thursday that the construction included schools, roads, and child care and community centres.
“The condition of the resident of eastern Jerusalem is much better today than in all the countries surrounding us, certainly than during the time of the British Mandate,” he said.
Barkat said Jerusalem recognizes democratic rights as they do in London.
“Just as in London, Jerusalemites are free to choose to live wherever they wish; just as in London, any form of discrimination based on religion, race or sex is prohibited by law,” the mayor said. “As would be the case in London, the idea that a resident would be denied the right to live in a certain neighbourhood based on their religion is preposterous.”
Barkat invited Cameron to visit Jerusalem and see for himself what the mayor called “our commitment to our Arab residents in east Jerusalem and the tremendous advancement we have made in bridging gaps across the city.” He also invited Cameron to “work with us to advance the development of the city of Jerusalem, rather than work to build walls and sharpen divisions in the heart of Jerusalem.”