Israeli Arab Leaders Ask Police to 'Handle Violent Crime Like They Do' in the West Bank

Arab mayors say they feel hopeful after first meeting with Israel Police since the start of a wave of protest against negligence in the face of gun violence in Arab communities

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The meeting between local Arab leaders and Israel Police, October 20, 2019.
The meeting between local Arab leaders and Israel Police, October 20, 2019.

Heads of Arab cities and towns in Israel met Sunday with senior police officials to discuss ways to reduce violent crime in the Arab community, in first since protests against police negligence in addressing gun violence began in late September following an uptick in deadly shootings.

Several of the Arab council heads who attended the meeting in Nazareth said that they would like to advance a law to define organized crime in their communities as a form of terrorism, which would allow for harsher punishments and even setting up checkpoints at entrances to Arab cities.

"We want to handle crime in our cities like they do in Jenin," some of them said, alluding to Israel's harsh treatment of suspects in the West Bank and the country's actions to quell any activity by Palestinians it views as terrorism.

During the meeting, the sides agreed that the Arab council heads will meet in the coming weeks with the regional commanders and will advance a plan to outfit Arab municipalities with cameras, which until now has been held up due to lack of funds.

Israeli Arabs protest against violence, organised crime and recent killings among their communities, in the Arab town of Majd al-Krum in Northen Israel on October 3, 2019.Credit: AFP

Arab leaders who spoke with Haaretz expressed satisfaction with the meeting. Mudar Yunis, chairman of the Forum of the Heads of Arab Local Authorities, said, "We're optimistic that the police understand that it's not enough to show us statistics and presentations, but that they also need to bring results. The discussion with senior police officials on this holiday eve is important, and there's something to say for them – they understand that the current situation cannot continue."

Mayor of Kafr Qasem, Adel Badir, added that some of the council heads spoke of the need for a massive increase in police force presence, while others warned that over policing might lead to push back from the public. "We must work so that every Arab citizen feels safer, and for that we need massive resources," Badir added, "The atmosphere in the meeting was different than in the past, and I hope that the police will press for a government program to deter crime."

The Monitoring Committee's legal team also plans to file an official complaint against the state with the United Nations Human Rights Council and other international organizations, including the OECD.

The committee's chairman, Mohammed Barakeh, said they hope to "show the severity of the situation and the lax response by law enforcement authorities," so that international organizations would pressure the government to act upon their demands.

Joint List lawmaker Yousef Jabareen, who heads the Monitoring Committee's international relations team, said the complaint would include data showing higher crime rates in Arab communities and lower rates of solved cases, as well as information on illegal weapons in Arab towns and cities and the lack of government response to this issue.

Protests against police negligence in the face of crime in the Arab community will continue this week. A protest will take place Tuesday across from the police headquarters in Nazareth, as part of ongoing planned demonstration approved by the High Arab Monitoring Committee.

Last week, hundreds demonstrated at the entrance to the Israeli Arab community of Ara after a resident of the village was shot dead. The police said that they will open three new headquarters of the Border Police that will work to combat violence in the Arab community.