When It Comes to Arab Citizens, the Police Are Quick on the Trigger

The shooting of Khayr al-Din al-Hamdan emphasizes what many Israeli Arabs have always thought: The police haven’t learned the lessons of the events of October 2000.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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A rally in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin on Oct. 1, 2011 to mark the anniversary of the October 2000 clashes with Israeli forces which left 13 Arabs dead.
A rally in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin on Oct. 1, 2011 to mark the anniversary of the October 2000 clashes with Israeli forces which left 13 Arabs dead. Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Israeli Arab public does not view the shooting of Khayr al-Din al-Hamdan, Saturday morning in Kafr Kana, as a matter for in-depth examination.

Israeli Arabs waving Palestinian flags during a rally in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin on March 30, 2013 commemorating the 37th anniversary of 'Land Day.'Credit: AFP

In its eyes, things are clear, black and white, and explanations and justifications are unnecessary: A policeman shot a young man, an Israeli citizen, at close range and killed him. All the rest is commentary, words with no public significance.

From here things may well develop in one of two directions.

The tension could explode - not just in Kafr Kana - and bring back the days of protests during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge and even those of the October 2000. Back then, 13 Arab demonstrators in northern Israel were killed by police over several days of disturbances that followed Ariel Sharon’s visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque at the end of September 2000.

The second possibility is the incident could be contained in a way that any civilized country would when a uniformed policeman shoots a citizen, without any connection to his ethnic origin.

But the responses from the Prime Minister’s Office and a few ministers, as well as that from the Israel Police’s upper echelons, do not herald good news.

Talk of deterrence and revoking citizenship means the government at its head still relates to Arabs as a violent community, and the response to it must be aggressive and repressive, not one of dialog.

This is how the police can adopt a strict approach to opening fire, with no deterrence or fear they will be brought to trial - since deterring the police could prevent such cases. Since police officer Shahar Mizrahi was sent to prison because in 2006 he shot Mahmoud Ganaim, when Ganaim fled in a stolen car in Pardes Hanna, almost no such incidents occurred - until Saturday.

The country’s leaders and the police must understand that the relations between the police and Arab community in Israel will always be complicated.

On one hand, they are citizens whom the police must protect, like the rest of Israel’s citizens. The police’s job is to protect them from criminals, to give them a feeling of personal security and to stand alongside them, in private and public, when they need protection. The Arabs, for their part, will continue to dial the 100 police-hotline number in case of emergency.

Nonetheless, the Arab citizen finds himself at the front facing the police in every political confrontation.

Every house demolition in the Negev, Galilee or in the towns of Wadi Ara is a recipe for an outbreak of violence and protest. An attack on Gaza, a military operation in Lebanon or a confrontation in the West Bank or Jerusalem could very well develop into a clash. And every shot fired at an Arab citizen could set the land on fire.

The reason is simple: The police are the long arm of the government and the establishment. In the worst case it sees Israeli Arabs as a threat that must be removed. In the best case they’re a security problem that must be dealt with using a carrot-and-stick - mostly stick - approach.

In the Israeli Arab citizens’ minds, the police are quick on the trigger when it comes to them. An incident like the one yesterday strengthens that awareness and disproves the claims that the police have learned their lessons after the events of October 2000 and that they are willing to change their behavior and rehabilitate relations with the Arab community.

Therefore, a quick and thorough investigation - and immediate steps against the police officers responsible for the incident, such as drawing conclusions on the command level and opening a direct dialog - could send a calming and positive message.

In the Arab community, any attempt to protect the police and blame the young attacker alone will continue the policy of covering up and hiding, which occurs anew every time.

Leaders are measured by their ability to prevent the next incident and not only to investigate the incident that was.

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