A Police of Jews

The Arab citizen does not need Mazuz to shrug his shoulders or Arab MKs' declarations to understand the slim chances of a court convicting a policeman.

How can an Arab citizen who is not a politician or a bereaved father understand his relationship with the State of Israel? In one week, he hears on the news that the Police Investigations Department (PID) has decided to close the investigation into the October 2000 events; just days later, as the annual commemoration of these "events" approaches, he is told that the police are good after all, and are prepared to reopen the investigation files. That very same week, Christian Arab citizens learn that the police did not find suspicious evidence regarding the involvement of Druze policemen in the riots in Maghar seven months ago, riots that led to the exodus of Christian residents from the village.

The problem of an Arab citizen, who ostensibly has no personal interest in the investigation, is not in understanding the intricacies of law or the dry rules of evidence that served as an excuse for freezing the investigation. After all, the Arab sector is no less packed with battalions of lawyers who know very well when it is possible to indict and when there is no chance of convicting suspects even if their guilt is clear to every schoolboy. The Arab citizen does not need the attorney general to shrug his shoulders or the declarations of Arab MKs to understand that the chances of a court convicting a policeman are very slim.

But we should pay attention to the citizen's demand: to investigate and indict. That is, all he is requesting is that his relationship with the state at least rest upon the semblance of equality. He is asking for evidence that the police belong to him, even when they shoot at him. And the emphasis is on the police because the police and the Shin Bet are the institutions through which the image of the Arab is formed in Jewish society. Especially when his image as the symbol of poverty and neglect is being eroded. "There are also poor people in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector," they tell Arabs when they complain about their low standard of living. "There are also inadequate services in Sderot and Dimona." This blurs the "advantage" the Arabs once had as a neglected minority.

The difference is that if the residents of Sderot block the roads of the Negev, they will be treated with "determination and sensitivity" and not with rubber-coated bullets and certainly not with lead. If a resident of Dimona were killed by a policeman's bullet, Dimona would at least merit an "indictment" - the legal ceremony that signifies not only a willingness to punish, but also empowers the citizen over the law-enforcement authorities that are suppose to be his servants and not shoot at him.

"We realize that it is a police of Jews, even if Arabs serve in it," a neighbor from Fureidis told me this week. What does "a police of Jews" mean? "It is a police from which we Arabs have no chance of receiving respect." Respect, not justice, not law enforcement or protection. Respect is not an expression of folklore and is not at all connected to the tradition of a certain society. Rather, it is the foundation without which no relationship can exist between citizens and the state's institutions. When the police do not meet the expectations of the entire public, when the sword of "indicting a policeman" is only in the hands of one part of the public while the other part can only be a "candidate for indictment," the mutual reverence that should exist between a government and its citizens collapses.

The absence of such reverence is what enables the state to continue to speak mockingly to the Arab minority. Therein lies the stupidity of the system that did not understand that its failure to issue indictments and, even more so, its failure to open an investigation in time (even if it would not ultimately result in conviction), produced an abortive legal situation that constitutes another dose of contempt for the Arab public. Because even with an untrained legal eye, one can see that this does not only entail an injustice for the bereaved families but for an entire community, a community that is fed up with hearing how loyal or disloyal it is to the state, and now wants the state to present reasonable criteria for loyalty. It is not an exaggerated demand to open an investigation and serve indictments in this context. Perhaps even one or two guilty parties would be found.