Arrests of Israeli Arabs have increased by 9 percent over the past seven years, in contrast to a decline of 11 percent in arrests of Jewish Israelis in that period, according to a study by the Israel Democracy Institute.
However, the proportion of Israeli Arabs who are indicted is much lower than that of Jews indicted. According to the study, this highlights the number of false arrests among Arab Israelis compared to the Jewish population.
The study was based on figures for 2011 to 2017, provided to the institute by the police. They cover four population groups: Jews; non-Jewish citizens of Israel, who for purposes of the study, led by Dr. Guy Lurie, were deemed to be Arabs; Palestinians; and foreigners, including asylum seekers, foreign workers and tourists.
The study found that in 2011, 25,765 Jews were arrested, while in 2017 the figure was 23,009, a decline of 11 percent. Regarding Arabs arrested, in 2011 the figure was 18,228, and in 2017 it was 19,855 – an 11 percent hike.
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Yet when it comes to indictments, the average, calculated between 2011 and 2016 (because some cases from 2016 may still be in the pre-indictment phase), 50 percent of all Jews arrested are indicted, while only 35 percent of Arabs arrested are charged in court.
Arrests of foreigners rose 123 percent between 2011 and 2017. This increased number of arrests clashes with police data citing a decrease in crimes committed by foreigners.
According to the study, the figures show a higher number of ultimately needless arrests of Arabs and foreigners than of Jews. “This is very problematic in terms of the attitude of law enforcement to this group. The findings show that the law is not applied equally by the police, the prosecution and the courts, or at least that enforcement of the law impacts the various groups unequally.”
The study reveals that 48 percent of people held by the police for up to 24 hours – that is, released before they are taken to court – are Arab Israelis, more than double their percentage in the population, which is 21 percent. Since such arrests are made on the order of an officer in the police force, they receive practically no judicial oversight.
During the term of the current police commissioner, Roni Alsheich, the overall number of arrests dropped slightly but is still about 60,000 a year. The number skyrocketed during the term of Yohanan Danino as commissioner, after police stations began to be evaluated by the number of arrests they carried out.
“Despite declarations by the police that they are reevaluating their arrest policy, it is clear that in fact arrests are still the key tool in law enforcement and not the last resort,” Lurie said.
Lurie’s study lists a number of possible reasons for inequity in arrests between Jews and Arabs. Among them are a lack of political power in Arab society to try to effect policy change, over-enforcement against Arabs as well as the fact that most cases are prosecuted by police prosecutors, which makes it difficult to oversee arrests.
The study recommends hiring more Arab police and prosecutors as a confidence-building measure for both sides. “I don’t say unequivocally that there is intentional discrimination, because there may be other reasons for the findings, such as gaps in patterns of criminality in various groups,” Lurie told Haaretz. Still, he adds, the findings show a need for further investigation.
“The slight decline in the number of arrests does not show a change in policy by the current police commissioner, and even if there is a policy change, it is not being implemented among commanders of police stations,” Lurie added.