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The Arab public wants better policing — and Israeli police don't care

Israel’s state comptroller released recommendations for improving policing in Arab communities. But none of them seem to address the real problem: police indifference.

By Nisreen Salameh Shahbari

Palestinians citizens of Israel participate in a vigil in the town of Ramle marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, on November 25, 2015. (Yotam Ronen)

Palestinians citizens of Israel participate in a vigil in the town of Ramle marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, on November 25, 2015. (Yotam Ronen)

On a cold February morning this year, my four-year-old son’s daycare was broken into. Sights of happy children singing and drawing were replaced with photos of horrific destruction and looting. This was the third break-in at Daburiyya, an Arab village east of Nazareth, that month. Previous incidents included an armed robbery in broad daylight, during which a person was shot and severely injured.

In a radio segment discussing the incident, police claimed they are handling all criminal activity in the village without delay, and that in cases where the investigation is paused or unsolved, it is because residents are refusing to cooperate. This is a known accusation that is too often regurgitated, a “golden ticket” used by police to explain their incompetence in enforcing the law in Arab communities. When pieced together, the daily acts of violence, from murder to vandalism, reflect a sad reality for 20 percent of the country’s population.

Two years ago, in an attempt to improve the sense of personal safety among Arab citizens, the government established a community policing center in my village. As many Arabs, I, too, hoped that building police stations near crime hotspots will lead to results. But when the police were slow to respond to the above-mentioned crimes, our hope dissipated.

Last week, at the height of the Arab community’s struggle against the Jewish Nation-State Law, the state comptroller released an evaluation of how police manage illegal firearms and shootings in Arab communities. For us, Arabs, the acute flaws in police conduct which were pointed out in the report were far from new. The report’s main contribution was the detailed data outlining Arab citizens’ deep lack of trust in law enforcement, and the sense of abandonment they have grown accustomed to.

Forensic examiners investigate a murder scene in Haifa on June 10, 2018, where a woman was found dead. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Forensic examiners investigate a murder scene in Haifa on June 10, 2018, where a woman was found dead. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

The central shortcomings highlighted by the comptroller: A lack of coordination and cooperation between police units, as well as between police and other law enforcement groups; insufficient labor force; allocating smaller teams to police station serving a predominantly Arab population (which was not the case at stations service Jewish-majority towns); and subpar implementation of the City Without Violence program.

The report focused only on two police stations – one in Nazareth, and another in central Israel ­– without addressing crime and police performance in the Negev, or in mixed Arab-Jewish cities like Ramleh and Lyd. The assessment also did not dive deep enough into the strong connection between organized crime or carrying weapons and the frequency of shooting incidents. It overlooked the relationship between crime organizations and police, which was evident in the recent kidnapping of Karim Jamhour, a seven-year-old child from the city of Qalansuwa. To top it all off, the overly simplistic recommendations do not outline any actions required to solve the problem, which makes their implementation even more challenging. What the report proved is that Arab citizens are subject to much higher levels of danger than the rest of the Israeli population, mainly because the police does not do enough to change that.

Is it possible that the theft of weapons from military bases, and their smuggling into cities across the country, or into Jordan, goes unnoticed by Big Brother? According to police statements, officers act on these cases only when specific intelligence is available. In other words, police choose to ignore the pervasiveness of guns in Arab communities – the damned source of most of the violence – by passively waiting for direct and detailed intelligence. Without such information, they do not find a need to act.

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Public opinion surveys show that most of the Arab public in Israel is interested – demands, even – law enforcement to address rising crime rates, and over time, the argument that Arabs do not cooperate with police investigations is turning out to be a baseless claim. Furthermore, the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law and incidents like Umm al-Hiran only contribute to the sense of hostility.

To restore the Arab public’s trust in the police, it must – together with the Ministry of Public Security which supervises it – allocate resources fairly, in a way that corresponds with the needs of Arab communities, and root out violence effectively. Having few Arab police officers in the ranks should not affect the quality of service provided to Arab communities.

There is a deep chasm between Arab citizens of Israel and police, due to the insufficient policing of crime, and the excessive policing of demonstrations. Despite the many surveys, studies and recommendations, the police remain indifferent to crime in Arab communities, and there is no real change in sight.

Nisreen Salameh Shahbari is an attorney specializing in criminal law. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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