The head of the new police department dedicated specifically to crime in the Arab community says it should have the powers that the Shin Bet security agency has, such as detaining suspects without trial, in order to curb the rampant violence.
Two weeks after an inauguration ceremony for the new department, and with 77 Arabs murdered this year so far, its head, Maj. Gen. Jamal Hakrush, says that "the result is not good." The number of murders in the Arab community at this time last year was 55 – itself a record-breaking number.
The department cannot be expected to produce immediate results, but its establishment shows that the issue is at the top of the agenda for law enforcement, Hakrush says.
The discovery of a murder victim on Sunday came after a weekend that saw three murders within 24 hours. According to a report by the Knesset Research and Information Center, between 2017 and 2020 90 percent of shooting victims brought to hospitals were Arabs, while the chance of an Arab under the age of 25 being hurt were 21 times that of their Jewish cohort. Among those over 25, the disparity was even greater. Meanwhile, in 90 percent of shooting incidents, the suspect is Arab.
The problem is not confined to murder rates. There are so many illegal weapons in the Arab community that the police admit that they don't even have an estimate of their number. They range between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of guns – and that doesn’t include other kinds of arms, numbered roughly in the hundreds of thousands.
Some are calling for the Shin Bet security service to get involved. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett supports this idea, as does Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, but Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman is against it. When asked about this, Hakrush denied that the police can’t deal with the phenomenon by themselves. “When it comes to Arab society, we have to be a bigger and stronger police force to deal with this disease. I don’t think the Shin Bet is the answer,” he says.
However, Hakrush believes that certain tools can help in the struggle. “I want us to have the powers that the Shin Bet has today, such as administrative detention,” he says, referring to the authority to detain suspects without trial. “I want us to have the authority to put a person into administrative detention if there is intelligence that they knows about illegal weapons, and if in a few days there is no evidence, he’ll go free. I hope we get to that.”
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Hakrush says the crime problem has several causes. “For years, the Arab public has been neglected," he says. "There has been a crazy rise in unemployment among young people in recent years – 40 percent of the 18–25 age group in Arab society is unemployed, and many of them turn to crime and look for quick money.” Moreover, Hakrush adds, “we’re living in a time when every murder is a ‘live murder’ – because it leads to a response that leads to another response, and it goes on and on.”
When asked whether the police have lost control over the Arab street, Hakrush says: “Absolutely not. We haven’t lost our deterrence and we won’t lose it.” According to Hakrush, in some places things have improved. “We are now strong in Wadi Ara,” he says, referring to a densely populated Arab area through which a main road runs in central Israel “and you hear less about incidents there.“ The same is true of Tuba-Zangariyye, he says, an Upper Galilee Bedouin town that has seen an uptick of violence.
“In the past, we were weaker. Now we’re getting stronger, but not enough…We admit that we weren’t strong enough or big enough. But that’s after decades of neglect by all the agencies,” Hakrush said, adding that 1,100 officers have been allocated to the new department. “In the Jewish community it took them nine years to reach the heads of the crime organizations. I don’t know when, but we’ll reach these results in the Arab community in less time.”
Giving the department the authority to make more arrests may not be sufficient, because in most cases the police do not solve murders in Arab society. According to a Haaretz follow-up, the rate of solved murders in the Arab community so far this year is 22 percent, as opposed to 56 percent in the Jewish community.
“Solving a murder case in the Arab community is not fast like in the Jewish community,” says Hakrush. “The scene is not the same scene. You have to work a lot harder – there are no cameras like in the Jewish community and the crime scene isn’t sterile, because hundreds of people show up after the murder. I’m not complaining, but it lengthens the time it takes to work on the evidence. We need to be closer, bigger and stronger.”
It seems that on this matter Hakrush isn’t giving the whole picture. In many cases the police take a long time to arrive at the crime scene, among other reasons because sometimes the police only find out about the case when the victim arrives at the hospital. Sometimes the crime scene is contaminated by evidence being removed and security camera footage being deleted. In addition, many witnesses in the Arab community do not cooperate with the police for fear of becoming victims themselves, which impedes the search for suspects or evidence.
With regard to the three murders over the weekend, the police say that they are unconnected. However, some of them are associated with recent murders: The murder of 18-year-old Anas Wahwah in Lod on Saturday is believed to be retaliation for the killing of Husam Musrati earlier this month in a case linked to clan feuds.