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To reduce crime, the police need the trust of Arab citizens

The rising violence in Israel’s Arab society hurts citizens and limits their ability to develop economically. But the police are unlikely to adequately address crime rates in Arab towns if they cannot work in cooperation with the local population. 

By Thabet Abu Ras and Amnon Be’eri Sulitzeanu

A Palestinian citizen stands before Israeli police forces during a demonstration in the city of Umm al-Fahm, October 2010. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A Palestinian citizen stands before Israeli police forces during a demonstration in the city of Umm al-Fahm, October 2010. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Of all the murder victims in Israel in 2016, 70 were Arab citizens. Thousands more were victims of violence and property damage. Statistically, 60 percent of murder victims in Israel are Arab — three times their representation in Israel’s general population.

Violence in Arab towns has reached disproportionate rates. This includes a wide-range of delinquency and criminal activities, ranging from illegal loan mechanisms, domestic violence, disputes between neighbors and families, violence against elected officials, street fights, vandalism, erratic driving, and more.

Three central factors contribute to this phenomenon. First among them is the high rate of poverty. Arab society disproportionately suffers from low socio-economic status as a result of high rates of unemployment, poor social and educational services, a failing infrastructure system, and an absence of recreation facilities such as playgrounds and community centers.

Second, societal changes have resulted in the weakening of traditional family structures. In a society undergoing modernization, Arab youth draw inspiration from social media, including YouTube and Facebook.

The third factor is a lack of policing services in Arab towns. Even when the police arrive at the scene of a crime, they are not part of an overarching effort to mitigate crime.

The under-policing of Arab society in Israel stems from the dual roles the police plays. On the one hand, it is responsible for the safety and security of Israeli citizens. On the other hand, it treats Arab society as a security concern. This duality results in under-policing services in Arab communities, until the police enter Arab towns in response to violence activities. The result is a continued distrust between Arab society and the police, as well as increased rates of violence within Arab communities across the country.

In December 2015, the Israeli government decided to allocate an unprecedented NIS 10 billion over five years for the economic development of Arab towns, providing an important opportunity for real socioeconomic change. However, economic development is foremost contingent on addressing the violence and insecurity plaguing Arab communities.

A survey conducted on behalf of The Abraham Fund Initiatives in 2017 found that over 50 percent of Arab citizens feel unsafe in their communities. In some towns, 80 percent of respondents reported feeling a lack of safety.

Police arrest an Arab protester during a demonstration in Nazareth against the Gaza war. (photo: Activestills.org)

Police arrest an Arab protester during a demonstration in Nazareth against the Gaza war. (photo: Activestills.org)

Studies have shown a direct relationship between perceptions of security and possible economic development. A study published by the Ministry of Public Security in 2013 estimated that the economic damage caused by crime in Israel is as high as NIS 16.3 billion a year. This is primarily caused by high illegal insurance rates, property damage, a lack of public health services, etc. Violence has an indirect, negative result on business development and consumer power.

The Israeli government understands the importance of addressing safety concerns in Arab towns, as well as the negative consequences a lack of safety has on Israel’s prosperity in the long term. In an effort to address this issue, 10 new police stations are slated to be built in Arab towns across the country this year. This will be coupled by recruitment of hundreds of new police officers, including from the Arab sector, to gradually increase levels of security and trust in Arab towns.

The allocation of resources for policing services in Arab communities is an important step, but it will not solve the underlying problems of safety in Arab towns. The police are unlikely to be able to address crime rates in Arab towns if they cannot work in cooperation with the local population and its leaders. Therefore, the police must adopt a service-oriented strategy to successfully address crime in Arab communities. Arab society is ready and willing to work with them, and once mutual trust is gained, Arab citizens will be more likely to cooperate with the police in solving crime and addressing delinquent behavior.

Dr. Thabet Abu Ras and Amnon Be’eri Sulitzeanu are co-executive directors at The Abraham Fund Initiatives, an organization that works towards promoting values of equality and shared society in Israel. The Safe Communities program, run by The Abraham Fund Initiatives, works towards increasing personal security in the Arab communities. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Nathanael

      Learn from Black Lives Matter. If the police are an brutal, violent occupying force which terrorizes the local population, as they are in Baltimore, Maryland, US… or the Occupied Territories, then:

      (a) nobody will call the police when there’s a crime, because the police cannot be trusted
      (b) people will take the law into their own hands with vigilantism, because what other alternative do they have?

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