Arab Leaders Skeptical as Israel's Top Cop Seeks Out More Arab Officers Amid Crime Surge

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Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai stands behind Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and an Arab female police officer at Thursday's inauguration ceremony.
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai stands behind Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and an Arab female police officer at Thursday's inauguration ceremony. Credit: Rami Shllush

As the rate of violent crimes in Arab communities continues to soar, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Wednesday inaugurated a new department focused on combatting crime in Arab communities and aims to drive forward a five-year plan to increase the number of Arab officers on the force by 300 percent.

Officially, police deny that the desire to recruit Arab officers is connected to the battle against crime in Arab communities, but in closed conversations, they admit that it’s aimed at bolstering Arabs’ trust in law enforcement, which continues to erode with every murder, especially over the past year.

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Since 2021 began, 69 Israeli Arabs have been murdered. What's more, the police only solved 23 percent of murder cases with Arab victims, as compared with 71 percent of cases with Jewish victims.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was also in attendance at Thursday's ceremony. The new department will replace the administration for improving police services in Arab society, adding intelligence activities and conflict resolution initiatives to the mix.

Shabtai hopes that within five years 10 percent of the force will consist of Arab officers – an extremely ambitious, if not impossible, target. Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev also wants to advance this target and in even less time – three years.

Even though Arabs make up a fifth of the general population, only 1,183 officers are Arabs, representing 3.5 percent out of 32,000 officers on the force. More than half of them – 641 officers – have been hired in the last four years.

“Sometimes, a single Arab policeman in an Arab town is worth 10 Jewish cops who don’t know the language or the mentality,” one senior police officer said.

But some Arabs think that hiring more Arab officers is the wrong solution and demand that different steps be taken – for instance, that authorities shore up the fight against organized crime, perhaps even by involving the Shin Bet security service.

“More police stations and more Arab cops – this an effort to deal with the symptoms instead of the problem,” said Adv. Amal Oraby Hussein, who coordinates the Sikkuy organization’s project on fighting violence in Arab society. “Dealing with the issue of crime requires examining underlying problems in the Arab community, including the economic and social problems that have developed after years of neglect.”

Umm al-Fahm Mayor Samir Mahamid thinks the money spent to recruit Arab officers would be better spent fighting crime. “Before recruiting new Arab officers, the officers we already have should do their job of eradicating crime and collecting illegal weapons,” he said. “We don’t care whether the cops are Jewish or Arab.”

Maj. Gen. Jamal HakrushCredit: Moti Milrod

The most vehement objections to the current plan were voiced by Prof. Asad Ganim, who drafted the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee’s crime-fighting plan.

"More Arab cops won’t help eradicate crime,” Ganim contends. By way of example, Ganim asserts that an Arab police officer who gets an order to demolish a home in an Arab town will resign the moment the order comes in.

Dr. Walid Haddad, a criminologist who previously worked for the Public Security Ministry, agreed. “What’s the point of recruiting more Arab cops?” he demanded. “To send them to attack demonstrators in Jerusalem?”

Maj. Gen. Jamal Hakrush, who will head up the police’s new department for fighting crime in Arab communities and also headed up the department in its previous incarnation, agreed that improving policing in the Arab community “doesn’t mean stationing Arab police officers in Arab towns.”

Hakrush insisted that the goal of "increasing the number of Arab officers on the force stems from the fact that it is important for us to include young Arabs," and that it’s important that there be Arab police officers, because “what characterizes a policeman from Tel Aviv doesn’t necessarily characterize a policeman from Umm al-Fahm. It has nothing to do with fighting crime in the sector."

“I don’t see any advantage to having an Arab officer in an Arab city,” he added, noting that while some Arab police officers will be stationed in Arab towns, others may be stationed in Jewish towns or in headquarters units.

Arab experts and politicians repeatedly argued Thursday that what’s needed most, alongside an uncompromising fight against organized crime and solving murders, is a change in the police’s attitude toward the Arab community.

Hakrush admitted that crime in the Arab community has soared in 2021, even compared to the already high figures for previous years.

"For me, even one death is too many," he said. “The current rise has many causes,” he said. “Thirty-three percent of this community's youth are unemployed, the older generation’s status has declined and the rule of law has weakened on the Arab street.” The new department, he added, “is intended to identify conflicts and prevent their deterioration before they reach a fatal outcome.”

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