The residents of Jaffa are waking up this morning to a new reality - a widespread campaign against the crime that fills its streets. The Tel Aviv District Police, with the assistance of the National Police Headquarters, is going head-to-head with Jaffa's organized crime families - families that are involved, for the most part, in a war among themselves, but are making the lives of their neighbors intolerable.
The slogan of the Chicago gangsters, "We only kill each other," is translated in Jaffa into the use of anti-tank weapons, which, by their nature, are unable to restrict damage to the target. In the wake of some 30 fatalities over the years, most coming from the crime families, police are going on the offensive. Jaffa could end up looking like a city under siege, with the high-profile presence of patrols, roadblocks, arrests and raids to seize weapons. The objective is an ambitious one - to dismantle the gangs that challenge the rule of law and run their neighborhoods as if there were no government, municipality or police.
The police operation is motivated by both a demonstrated need - the escalation in shooting incidents - and available capability. In the wake of the events of October 2000, the Israel Police has changed its approach toward civil disturbances and has assembled better prepared forces than ever before. The units trained to deal with such disturbances were successfully deployed during the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank settlements.
This evacuation ended a lot sooner than expected, and it has left the police with Border Police companies whose members had been assigned for several months of "short-term permanent force" duties under the assumption that they would be required until the end of the year. This increase in the available policing force has seen the Tel Aviv District boosted by 100 officers for the Jaffa operation.
The man entrusted with directing the operation, Chief Superintendent Albert Ohayun, deputy commander of the area that includes Jaffa, was in charge of one of the police public-order battalions during the evacuation of Gaza.
The Tel Aviv Police Central Unit, which normally deals with the fight against violent and sophisticated crime, is supposed to gather solid evidence that will lead to convictions of those suspected of membership in the gangs. Experience has shown that incarcerating the gang leaders would ease the war in Jaffa's streets and fields for a time.
One reason behind the awakening of this crime war is the release from prison of gang leaders after the completion of their sentences. A determined prosecutorial and judicial system is vital to bring police action to fruition. The results of the operation are therefore dependent on the actions of the state prosecution and the penalties imposed by the courts on those convicted of murder and other violent crimes.
The chorus of a popular Israeli song promises, "There is nothing like Jaffa at night," but when it comes to lawlessness, Israeli reality provides the city with competition, particularly in the Negev and the Sharon region. There are areas that police are afraid to enter and confront the criminals who control them and openly thumb their noses at the sovereignty of the state.
Now, borne on the success of the evacuation of the settlements, well-budgeted, reinforced and lower-than-ever on excuses, the police must fulfill its fundamental role, knowing that the public, which has had enough of the violence that runs rampant, will provide it with the appropriate support.
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