O'Malley takes in a city 'at war'
Jerusalem: On a visit to Israel, the mayor sees another community struggling with violence and striving for security.
By Peter Hermann
Sun Foreign Staff

January 12, 2005

JERUSALEM -- It was a large inelegant room in a Jerusalem police station, and Mayor Martin O'Malley of Baltimore was watching the diversity of the walled Old City walk by on the screens of TV monitors: Palestinian merchants, Jewish worshippers and tourists wandering the cobbled alleys.

O'Malley, as part of a delegation of Baltimore officials and community leaders, also saw recorded footage of a stabbing, an explosion and a protest that turned violent.

Jerusalem officials had talked about the past four years of violence here, including that a dozen of the 32 suicide attacks in the city occurred within 500 yards of city hall.

"Multicultural cities are a challenge," the mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, told his Baltimore visitors. "Multiethnic cities are a double challenge. Multireligious cities are a triple challenge. Jerusalem is blessed with being all three at the same time."

O'Malley focused yesterday on the security cameras: Law enforcement agencies here rely on 276 cameras to help police an area slightly larger than half of a square mile. O'Malley has proposed installing cameras to watch 30 square blocks that are part of the west-side development plan. He has also talked of installing cameras along the Monument Street business corridor in East Baltimore.

"When viewed from afar, we see the suicide bombers and the daily violence," O'Malley said yesterday while being driven in a bus in Jerusalem's intimidating traffic. "Yet when going through the city, you can see how the economy continues to roll and how people continue to live."

If Jerusalem seems a place about government and religion, Baltimore seems a place about commerce. Baltimore suffers from violence because of guns and drugs, Jerusalem from violence linked to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I know that you are here to learn from our experiences on security issues," Jerusalem's mayor said. "Unfortunately, we have had a lot of experience." He praised the controversial barrier Israel is building to isolate Palestinian neighborhoods and villages from the city, saying, "A fence can be taken down when it is no longer needed, but a life cannot be reversed."

O'Malley's six-day visit to Israel is part of a tour organized by the Baltimore Jewish Council. It is a trip that has become almost mandatory for state and local officials looking to gain support of Jewish voters in Maryland. His tour does not include Palestinian areas.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who -- like O'Malley -- is widely expected to seek the Democratic nomination for governor next year, made the trip in May.

O'Malley wife, Katie, a District Court judge, traveled with the mayor. They were accompanied by Maj. David Engel, chief of the Baltimore police intelligence unit; Pamela Kessler, an city assistant state's attorney; City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector; Suzanne F. Cohen, chairwoman of the Baltimore Museum of Art; and Neil Meltzer, president of Sinai Hospital.

The mayor dined with the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel C. Kurtzer; the group has met police and army officials and Ehud Olmert, a cabinet minister who is a former Jerusalem mayor. The delegation is scheduled to visit Ashkelon, Baltimore's sister city, tomorrow.

O'Malley said he will talk with port officials there and in Haifa about security issues, and meet with airport officials on the same subject.

Yesterday, his bus stopped at an overlook from which all of Jerusalem, old and new, seemed to be at his feet. O'Malley looked out over the Old City and the Temple Mount, Palestinian villages and the barrier wall that cuts through the village of Abu Dis.

The tour guide, Lee Berlman, pointed to Jewish settlements in the distance and briefly discussed the debate about the barrier.

A quick series of distant gunshots echoed through the valley, and Berlman, hardly breaking stride in her presentation, said, "That's the army shooting."

O'Malley was still thinking about the barrier. "So, they say it works?" he said, looking at the wall in the distance.

He was frustrated and distracted by news of three men being shot and killed overnight in the Remington neighborhood of Baltimore and tabulated the city's death toll on the back of his schedule. "I doubt that I would close roads," he said, stopped at a checkpoint because of a bombing alert. "It's also hard to get used to police carrying machine guns.

"It's a city clearly at war."

Copyright © 2005, The Baltimore Sun