Failure Foretold? Police Plan to Confiscate Weapons in Arab Locales

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Arab Israelis demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, October 10, 2019.
Arab Israelis demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, October 10, 2019.Credit: AFP

The police are set to confiscate illegal weapons in Arab communities next month despite warnings of an anticipated failure.

Experts and leaders in these communities say the operation is unlikely to succeed without a broader government scheme to prevent crime in Arab society and even the police acknowledge that without the cooperation of Arab leaders the operation is doomed to failure.

In 2017 the police offered Israeli Arabs who held weapons illegally to return them anonymously without being charged. The project, which cost about half a million shekels, turned out to be a dismal flop. By September only three firearms and 21 other weapons had been handed in.

However, in the wake of the Arab public’s protest against the violence raging in its streets and Arab leaders’ calls to confiscate illegal arms, police are planning a similar operation at the beginning of November. They aim to seize at least some illegal weapons, estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands.

Like in the last operation, police presence will be minimal. Weapon collection points will be set up in municipal halls and other public, non-police structures, under the guard of a civilian security company. The police intend to increase the Arab advertising budgets for the operation in Arab media, social networks and billboards.

However, several Arab experts and leaders believe the venture is doomed. A senior official in the Public Security Ministry says, “there’s no cooperation on the part of the Arab municipalities or MKs, and even the public isn’t exactly eager to play along.” 

“Those who have illegal weapons are criminals, and are not likely to come forward and hand them in,” he says.

Police sources blame Arab mayors and local council heads for the expected failure. A senior police officer says “leading local authority heads simply won’t cooperate. So how do they want the public to hand in weapons? Without their cooperation and especially without a clear statement from them it will be difficult to act.”

But a few local mayors say they have not been approached by the police at all. Kafr Qasem's mayor, Aadel Badir, was surprised the police were planning a weapons confiscation campaign with the municipalities’ help.

“First off, nobody spoke to me about it,” he says. “Second, it’s not our job to collect weapons but the police’s. Don’t talk to us about it because no special operation is needed. It’s a waste of time. It didn’t work in the past and it won’t work now. The police want to collect weapons? Fine, make operations, conduct searches, prevent smuggling. Just do something.”

M-16s confiscated by police, who arrested six Be'er Sheva and northern residents on suspicion of stealing and selling 33 weapons from an IDF base, September 9, 2017.Credit: Police Spokesperson

Mudar Yunes, the Arara council head and chairman of Arab local councils, is a staunch opponent of the operation. “All these operations aren’t practical. Come on, a youngster who just bought an M-16 for 40,000 shekels is going to hand it over voluntarily to the police?” he says.

“Nobody’s going to hand over a weapon, and anyone who thinks that doesn’t understand reality.”

“A man who has a weapon that isn’t in use will simply bury it somewhere on his land. Perhaps such operations could work among Jewish army veterans who are stuck with ammunition or a magazine, but not in Arab society,” Yunes says.

There’s only one way to collect weapons, he believes: “The police must go in and take them from those who have them.”

Yunes blasts the police’s handling of crime in Arab society. He says a shooting exchange went on for three hours in Arara on Yom Kippur eve. “I called the commander of the Iron police station and other police officers. One of them told me he doesn’t have enough police cars. Only three hours later they sent in forces. The police knows where the weapons are, they should go in and take them. It’s the police’s work, not ours,” he says.

Dr. Walid Hadad, until a few months ago a senior criminologist in the Public Security Ministry, also doesn’t believe the operation will succeed. “They’ve tried it twice before and failed, so what will be different this time? The minister and police are doing it only to say ‘look, we’re trying,’” he says.

>> Eliminating violence in the Israeli Arab community is in everyone’s interest 

Hadad, who was once an inspector in the ministry’s Authority for Prevention of Violence, Alcohol and Drug Abuse, says: “We don’t want to reward those who have guns but to punish them.”

Hadad is advancing a program in tandem with the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee to prevent crime, and believes a special crime prevention authority should be set up as part of the Prime Minister’s Office, with a staff comprising Arab professionals and representatives. “To bypass bureaucracy, solve specific problems and provide funds for stations in need of it. Today, even if the police want to act, they don’t have the money,” he says.

Also, the police can’t fight crime in Kalansua the same way they do in Ramat Aviv, he says. “There’s sensitivity, it’s different. That’s why every such operation is a temporary solution, while what is needed is a long term solution.”

“Weapon collecting operations look good in the media, but have a limited effect,” says Professor Badi Hasisi, chairman of the Institute of Criminology at Hebrew University. Studies on similar operations in Argentina, Brazil, the United States and Britain have shown that they don’t lead directly to a reduction in crime. At the most they have helped to prevent domestic weapon accidents, Hasisi says.

The Knesset Research and information Center, which published a survey on the issue this year, found that “in most cases, the plans were not effective in reducing the violence associated with weapons.”

Dr. Nurit Yachimovich-Cohen, who wrote the paper, noted that countries that implemented weapon collection operations toughened the restrictions on obtaining legal weapons at the same time. However in Israel the Public Security Ministry was reducing restrictions on obtaining a license for weapons, she said.

The Lod-based NGO Abraham Fund Initiatives, which supports confiscating illegal weapons, stresses that these operations must not be sporadic but ongoing, within a determined period of time.

The NGO said Arab civilians who keep guns do so because they don’t feel safe. “It’s a result of deep insecurity and a sense that they can rely only on themselves. People can be expected to part with their weapons only when they know they’re safe, and with the police’s help.”

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