Israel Pulse

Arab Israelis lament community violence as lawmakers point at police

Article Summary
Arab Israeli lawmakers say that the high crime rates in their communities can largely be blamed on police negligence, but their constituents quietly acknowledge the reality is more complicated.

Violence tore through Arab Israeli communities during the first weekend of September, when four people were murdered within 48 hours. In the central town of Tira, Mohammed Hajaj and his fiancé Rima Abu Gheit were shot dead while sitting in their car. In the coastal community of Jisr a-Zarka, Radad Faisal Radad was shot dead and three others were wounded. In the Galilee village of Raineh, Jonathan Nuesray was killed in an altercation between two local families. Only one of the four, Hajaj, was previously known to the police.

So far this year, 37 Arab Israelis have been murdered, and 70 were murdered last year. According to police data issued in June, 95% of all crime-related shooting incidents in Israel involve Arabs. Some 76% of those suspected of illegal weapons possession are Arabs; 55% of murder victims are Arabs, as are 57% of murder suspects. Arabs constitute 21% of Israel’s population.

According to a 2017 report by the government’s watchdog agency, the state comptroller, 1,236 Arab men and women lost their lives in the course of criminal activity between the years 2000 and 2017.

The reasons for this disparity undoubtedly stem from the socio-economic situation of Arab society in Israel and the government’s policies toward it. The problem has worsened since the 2000 riots in which 13 Arab protesters were shot to death by security forces — a crisis point in the relationship between police and the Arab minority.

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Arab lawmakers generally argue that police are to blame. Following the latest murders, head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh said that the police do not respond to reported crime properly. “They don’t deal with such cases even though there are police stations everywhere. If a Jew is murdered, they have an answer, but if an Arab is murdered, they don’t,” he said. His colleague, Knesset member Ahmed Tibi, also blamed the army since criminals use weapons smuggled from its arsenals. “The Israel police and the army bear responsibility for the continued smuggling and the result is over 1,260 murders,” he said.

In April 2016, the government took action to improve personal safety in Arab communities and in Jerusalem and established a new administration to police Arab communities, to recruit thousands of policemen and women, including Arab Israelis, to open police stations in Arab towns and villages and to expand existing ones. Three new stations were established in November 2017 in Arab communities, one of them in Jisr a-Zarka, where Radad Faisal Radad was murdered this past weekend. At the time, Joint List lawmaker Jamal Zahalkeh protested the move, claiming the Israeli establishment was seeking to infiltrate Arab towns and villages with officers who would report on the residents’ actions.

In 2016, Jamal Hakrush was promoted to deputy police commissioner, the first Arab to hold such a rank, and tapped to head the Arab policing administration. But so far, the administration has had a hard time setting up new police stations and obtaining the cooperation of residents and local councils. However, the real difficulty lies in recruiting Arab police officers to help fight the swelling crime in their communities. They face community condemnation, such as when young Arab men recently saw new recruit Saadi Sabarin entering a local police station to begin her duties, they cursed her for joining the "Zionist" police force.

Despite the alarms raised over the growing violence by Arab leaders, joining the police is still considered an act of treason. What is the point of all the leadership’s calls for change when the victims refuse to do anything for themselves and their leadership continues to point the finger of blame solely at the police?

At a security conference in June, Hakrush lashed out at Arab Knesset members. “From a place of depression and disappointment, the Arab Israeli public chose its leaders to improve their lives — but instead those leaders have embarked on a path of shouting and violence. Their behavior serves to put them in the headlines, but the majority would prefer peace and quiet,” he said.

This past week, other Arab Israelis spoke up with a similar message. In a harsh Aug. 31 article in the Arabic-language Kul al-Arab weekly, Maram Awada wrote, “We can declare strikes, express anger on social media and blame the police, but without assuming responsibility and ending the weapons [proliferation], we will continue to wallow in rivers of blood.”

Others hold similar views, but she is one of the few who dared to openly blame the community itself. Most the other voices reach only so far as the family or community. Tira resident N. spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity about the gang warfare in his town. “When it gets dark, you won’t find people in the streets. Everyone is scared, but no one does anything.” A., a resident of Umm-al-Fahm, said that every family in town has at least one firearm. “If you don’t have a weapon, you expose yourself and your family to risk. The town leadership only talks and talks but no one does anything to establish a citizens’ patrol or try to change the mentality of our society,” he said, also asking that his name be withheld.

The most effective and perhaps the only way to stop the bloodbath is a large-scale operation to collect the massive amounts of weapons amassed in Arab homes over the years. Such a plan, however, would require house-to-house searches by police officers aided by army troops. It would require strong support from the Arab leadership, such as the Knesset members and mayors.

As long as residents keep demonstrating against the police and calling for the expulsion of police forces instead of working with them, the violence will likely continue.

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Found in: joint list, knesset, palestinian leaderships, arab israelis, east jerusalem, crime, israeli police

Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

Eldar has published two books: "Eyeless in Gaza" (2005), which anticipated the Hamas victory in the subsequent Palestinian elections, and "Getting to Know Hamas" (2012), which won the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Military Literature. He was awarded the Ophir Prize (Israeli Oscar) twice for his documentary films: "Precious Life" (2010) and "Foreign Land" (2018). "Precious Life" was also shortlisted for an Oscar and was broadcast on HBO. He has a master's degree in Middle East studies from the Hebrew University. On Twitter: @shlomieldar

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