One of the most popular television series in the Arab world during Ramadan has been running for nine seasons: the Syrian show “Bab al-Hara” (“The Neighborhood’s Gate”). The story changes from season to season, and some of the characters have been replaced, but for nine years the image of the local police that operated under the French Mandate in Syria hasn’t changed.
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The officer responsible for the security of neighborhood residents can be bought for a pittance, and his contribution to that security is almost nonexistent. The residents have to take on the neighborhood’s problems such as solving conflicts and even dealing with dangerous criminals. They use force when necessary, and the local police station has been completely been cut out of things, or it’s only included in unimportant matters — which more than once leads to confrontations and friction.
The situation in Kafr Qasem isn’t so far from being a plot for “Bab al-Hara.” In recent years, residents of the town, located in the heart of Israel, have had to deal with harsh violence, including shootings.
Local people are convinced that criminal elements and crime families are behind many of the murders that have been committed in recent years.
So far this year, seven people have been murdered in Kafr Qasem. Six of the murders stemmed from criminal motives and not one has been solved. Two of the people murdered were activists in the local security committee, which operates under the auspices of city hall. It has been active for years, but in the last two years the committee has become very prominent in the city.
Activists on the committee and in city hall say the group has tried to fill the vacuum left by the police, and in practice it plays a central role in solving disputes and preventing violence. The activities of the committee members have led to friction with organized-crime elements, which has led to the conflicts and their victims, local people say.
Whether this is an essential effort or not, the very establishment of the committee underlines the residents’ lack of faith in the police. In Kafr Qasem, as opposed to other Arab communities, there is a police station, but instead of it enhancing the feeling of personal security, the local people feel just the opposite.
The events late Monday night in which a resident was shot to death by a security guard for the police station only increases the feelings of alienation and a lack of trust.
The police have been working for months to recruit Arab police officers and open new police stations in Arab communities. This would seem to be a critical step in improving the services provided by the police and offering a feeling of security, but it hasn’t produced results.
The simple reason is that the police do not only need to increase these resources. They need to change their policy and treat Arabs as citizens with full rights, not just as a security threat. Only this way can they produce results in the fight against organized crime and improve their relationship with the Arab community. In a normal country there must be a single police force for everyone, not one for Jews and one for Arabs. This must be expressed not just in words but in actions.
At the same time, the Arab community must deal with no less difficult questions and realize that the police are a central link in the fight against violence, if not the only one. The fabric of Arab society is being unraveled and organized crime is trickling into large parts of society. Given a lack of appropriate frameworks for many young people and a flawed education system, these organized crime groups have found fertile ground in many towns.
Education and culture, changing the public discourse and investment in the younger generation must be a top priority of local and religious leaders. The public space, not the most important thing to many seen as part of the influential and enlightened generation, has been left to the rioters. If the two sides come together and find a common denominator, it will be possible to speak of an optimistic future. If not, what happened in Kafr Qasem will be just another chapter in the bloody series.