In Israel's Mixed Cities, Arabs Convicted at Much Higher Rates Than Jews, Study Shows

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An Arab Israeli being detained in Jaffa as troubles flared across Israel in May.
An Arab Israeli being detained in Jaffa as troubles flared across Israel in May.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Arab citizens in mixed Israeli cities are disproportionately convicted of crimes compared to their Jewish neighbors, underscoring “the significance of the rise in crime rates” in recent years, an analysis of government data released this week showed.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, Arab Israelis constituted 35 percent of those convicted in cities with mixed Arab-Jewish populations – a rate “3.7 times their proportion of the general population in these cities where they make up only 10 percent of the residents,” the report stated.

The study, based on Central Bureau of Statistics data from 2019 (the last year such figures are available), also found that among the general population, 36 percent of convictions in 2019 were Arab Israelis, That number is equivalent to 1.7 times their share of the population. Just over half of convicted minors in mixed cities, and around 40 percent nationally, were Arab.

The years 2014-2019 marked a “significant increase in the rate of Arabs convicted in mixed cities – from 30 to 35 percent,” the analysis stated. It noted that there appeared to be a correlation between low high school graduation rates and high conviction rates among Arabs in mixed cities.

Crime rates have soared in Arab communities in recent years, with community leaders complaining that their towns and cities suffer from under-policing and an increase in organized crime.

Last Saturday – the same day 38-year-old Abed Kazaz was shot and killed at the Jaffa port, making him the 103rd death in the Arab community in Israel this year from crime-related violence – a demonstration took place in northern Israel to protest police incompetence in handling crime in the Arab community.

On Sunday, the government allocated 2.4 billion shekels ($780 million) as part of a five-year national plan to combat crime and violence in the Arab community. 

In September, one senior police official admitted to Haaretz that “we have lost control of the street in Arab communities,” asserting that there was “no orderly plan to contend with crime.”

The police have helped solve only 23 percent of the murders in the Arab community this year, compared with 71 percent for the Jewish community.

According to the government’s plan, the police will set goals in five separate areas: Arab public trust in the police; citizens’ personal sense of security; reducing homicides; solving cases in firearms dealing, murder and shootings; and increasing reports by the Arab community to the police’s emergency hotline. They will also invest in adding a large number of security cameras throughout the mixed Arab-Jewish cities of Lod and Acre.

The cameras will be installed in part because of the fear of further Jewish-Arab violence in these cities, too, said Tomer Lotan, director general of the Public Security Ministry, likely referring to the violence that rocked the country in May during the latest flare-up between Israel and Hamas.

Several Jews and Arabs were killed in the riots, while some houses of worship were torched, leading then-President Reuven Rivlin to compare the violence to a “pogrom” led by a “bloodthirsty Arab mob.” Jewish mobs seeking revenge attacked Arabs and vandalized multiple Arab-owned businesses.

A bullet casing tagged at a murder crime scene in the mixed city of Ramle after an Arab resident was murdered. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Poverty and neglect

“Bias and discrimination tell only part of the story and explain the high rates of convictions in Arab society and in mixed cities – poverty and neglect tells the rest,” explained Dr. Nasreen Haddad Haj-Yahya, director of the IDI’s Arab Society in Israel program.

“The violence we are seeing today has its roots in decades of poverty and neglect on behalf of the state. In addition to the early history, we can look back to the 1980s and see the seeds of today's crisis: a rise in drug and alcohol use among the youth, high levels of unemployment and poverty. This is true in general in Arab society, but even more so in mixed cities such as Ramle, Lod and Jaffa.”

“Arab citizens in mixed cities fell between the cracks in budgeting and public planning,” she continued. “This population has had to deal over the years not only with a rise in violence and drugs, also with inadequate public and social services – so they weren’t afforded the assistance that other poor populations in Israel can access.

“As for enforcement, until recently there was very little. Problems were neglected, drug gangs were allowed to flourish, violence – as long as it remained within Arab society – wasn’t curbed. When people see that laws aren’t enforced and public order isn’t kept, they take things into their own hands. This encourages and strengthens the bad elements and the cycle grows stronger.” The coronavirus pandemic “pushed it over the edge,” she added.

Asked about the data, Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of the Abraham Initiatives, an organization advocating for coexistence and political equality, said he believed it reflected the Arab community’s higher crime rate rather than systemic discrimination within the justice system.

“There is under-policing in our society, so police services are not good enough. The Arab community suffers from both over-policing and under-policing in a sense, but I don’t think that’s reflected in the IDI data, which is of convictions. I think that reflects the higher crime rate,” Abu Rass said.

Israeli police attending an incident in the Arab town of Kafr Kana recently.Credit: Gil Eliahu

“I don’t think it’s an issue of bias. It’s an issue of a lack of personal security in mixed cities where there’s a lot of systemic discrimination that creates a lot of social gaps and leads to violent crimes, and that’s what we are seeing in the data,” he added.

Improving dialogue

According to an Abraham Initiatives survey published in August, which was based on Arab public opinion polling conducted prior to this summer’s violence, “in mixed cities, Palestinian citizens of Israel sense considerably less personal security than in Arab cities.”

The report noted that between a fifth and a quarter of Arabs killed in recent years have hailed from mixed cities, despite the fact that they account for only 10 percent of the overall Arab Israeli community. Furthermore, just over 60 percent of Arabs living in mixed cities “felt a lack of personal security,” as opposed to only 27.5 percent of Jewish residents.

However, Haj-Yahya said, “today there is a feeling that the dialogue has improved,” with better communications with security officials and a “growing feeling of trust between the establishment and the citizens – and this can be the basis for everything else.”

She continued: “It feels that the current government, in particular at the behest of the professional echelon in various ministries, is more attentive and really wants to make a change. It seems that they understand that the future plans have to include holistic solutions that are adapted to the real needs on the ground, in order to eradicate the violence in both the short- and long-term. Not just recruiting additional policemen and building more police stations – but also investing in early childhood, formal and informal education, housing, strengthening the social services as well as investing specifically in the mixed cities.

“This is historic,” she summed up. “Nevertheless, we have to remember that decades of neglect won't be resolved overnight. It will necessitate working together – government, civil society and Arab leadership – and it will take time to see results.”

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