The spate of arrests over the past two weeks in Israeli Arab communities is a far cry from the “law and order” operation the police have used to describe their actions. It is the exact opposite. Arab residents of the mixed towns and communities don’t perceive a police effort to impose law and order but to spread terror. Arab citizens feel the state is telling them that anyone who dares to raise their heads will get hurt.
The police call the operation successful, describing those arrested during the protests against Israel's operation in Gaza as “rioters” who blocked roads, destroyed pubic property and committed racially-motivated attacks on innocent passersby. The police claim some of those “rioters” keep firearms and have a criminal past. But this story is far from convincing the overwhelming majority of the Arab public.
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Residents of quite a few communities where arrests were made say the police came in numbers the likes of which haven’t been seen for 20 years, a period during which Arab society bled due to rampant crime in the streets.
“We had three murder cases in Umm al-Fahm between Friday and Monday morning. The police remained unfazed,” says Morid Farid, a member of Umm al-Fahm’s popular committee, consisting of public figures and social activists.
The police presence in the city grew significantly once the anti-war protests began. “How can you persuade our public that the starting point of this move isn’t political, and that it’s only intended to terrorize our young people?” he wonders. “I can tell you, it’s bound to fail.”
In wake of the massive wave of arrests in Umm al-Fahm and elsewhere in the Galilee and the Negev, dozens of Israeli Arab lawyers have taken on cases, mostly pro bono, to represent detainees.
“We’ve been talking about the violence in Arab society, the use of firearms and the organized crime for two years,” says Negev-based attorney Shada Ibn Bari. “Why haven’t we heard of such a ‘law and order’ operation all this time?” Ibn Bari, one of the lawyers representing dozens of youths, adds, “This is an attempt to besmirch an entire public, including minors, who find themselves with indictments and criminal records.”
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Even quiet communities where Arab citizens live, like Kaukab Abu al-Hija, were filled with police cars in the past two weeks. “I don’t remember seeing anything like it for two decades at least,” one resident of the town located in the Upper Galilee’s Misgav Regional Council, said after witnessing the arrest of a family member. “The whole thing is that youths blocked the route parallel to the village, that leads to a few rural communities. This led to a wave of arrests.”
“A police force came as though they were after a big-time criminal, not some youth suspected of disrupting the order. Just the sight of the policemen at the house entrance terrorizes the entire family,” he says.
He wonders why the youth couldn’t be summoned for questioning at the police station in Misgav, a few minutes’ drive from the village.
A few Arab local government heads met with the police commissioner early this week, demanding a halt to the operation. The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee called for protest vigils outside police stations.
The police responded on Thursday that the operation will continue another week. The local government heads are convinced the operation has nothing to do with fighting crime and is intended solely to break the spirit of hundreds of young people who had taken to the streets.
“I remind you and others: there was an Ethiopian Israeli community protest. They blocked roads and closed neighborhoods and burned tires,” says a local authority head in the Galilee. “Have you heard of any arrests? Or of arrests among the ultra-Orthodox who held violent protests in Jerusalem and elsewhere?”
Adalah Legal Center director Hassan Jabareen said this week that law enforcement authorities dropped many cases against participants in violent demonstrators, be they Ethiopian Israeli, ultra-Orthodox or settlers opposing the disengagement from Gaza.
The police are arresting public figures and well-known political activists, too, say Arab community members. The state indicted on Thursday the deputy chairman of the northern faction of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Kamal Khatib, for incitement to terrorism, incitement to violence and supporting a terrorist organization. Khatib’s arrest almost two weeks ago in Kafr Kana turned the town center into a real battlefield – 30 young people were injured, some from live fire. Khatib was summoned more than once in past to the police station and appeared of his own free will, so they wonder in Kafr Kana why the police – or maybe other security organizations – decided to have a force of dozens of armed police officers enter the town center to arrest him publicly, if not to demonstrate their presence and send a message. Besides Khatib, social activists, local politicians and numerous politically-active young people who are very distant from the criminal world, including the Mossawa Center chairman Jafar Farah, Shfaram city councilman Zuhair Karkabi, and Haifa city councilman Raja Zaatry, have been summoned and questioned.
The police may be claiming law and order, but Israeli Arabs are receiving a totally different message. The community is reaching the conclusion that the operation’s goal is meant not to fight crime, but rather to deter the Arab public.
The police’s message targets two different groups: The young people and minors who feel free from any authority – including the local leadership – and the educated middle class, which the political activists who are located in the establishment’s sights. The feeling is that when the moment of truth comes, the police won’t hesitate; there will be a wave of arrests and even more draconian measures of administrative detention.
The government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, and the police, which spoke until just a month ago about restoring relations with the Arab community, hiring Arab police officers and cooperating in the fight against crime, are now pictured as oppressors – pursuing not the criminals, but rather the citizens who came out to protest in the streets.