Failure to Enforce Gun Laws in Arab Localities Hit Record High in 2020, Israeli Police Say

Police want prosecutors to attach document they wrote to indictments in the hopes of convincing judges to keep suspects in custody and hand down harsher sentences

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A police car is seen as roadblocks are set up in southern Israel, last year.
A police car is seen as roadblocks are set up in southern Israel, last year.

The year 2020 saw a record number of shootings in Arab communities, but a steep decline in the number of indictments issued for weapons infractions. The findings are from new figures and an opinion submitted by the police to the State Prosecutor’s Office. The police want prosecutors to attach the document to indictments, in order to persuade judges to hand down harsher sentences for such infractions. The police would also like to see judges accede more frequently to keeping suspects in custody until the end of legal proceedings against them. The document, which has been distributed to district prosecutors, also contains veiled criticism of court rulings on the matter.

The document came about as a result of discussions between the police and the state prosecutor’s office during which the police expressed dissatisfaction with judges’ unwillingness to grant requests to remand suspects until the end of proceedings. The prosecution suggested that the police provide the district prosecutors with such a document to append to indictments.

The document was written by the head of weapons research in the police intelligence and investigations branch, Superintendent Eti Sisso. In its criticism of the courts, the document states: “Only 28 percent of those arrested are kept in custody until the end of proceedings against them. That is, a good many of those involved in crimes of this type are walking free and have access to illegal weapons, with all the implications.”

The criteria for extending a suspect’s detention are fear of obstruction of the investigation and the extent of danger the suspect represents. Sisso wrote that suspects are being released while their trials are ongoing despite their danger to society. “Possession, manufacture or use of weapons illegally is a clear manifestation of criminal intent of the perpetrators to commit illegal acts that endanger lives,” the document states. The ease with which weapons can be illegally obtained in the Arab community increases the risk that such weapons will be used to commit murder. “In the end, this impacts the number of offenses committed with firearms,” Sisso added.

The figures Sisso presented on crimes committed with illegal firearms and enforcement against such crimes in the Arab community in 2020 reveal that last year was a low point in enforcement. During 2020, 3984 illegal firearms cases in the Arab community were opened, a dramatic increase over previous years (in 2019, 2960 investigations were launched; in 2018, 2473 investigations were launched), and that 2020 actually saw a five-year record for the opening of such cases in the Arab community. The number of arrests in 2020 also broke a record – there were 2,372 arrests in 2020, as opposed to 1,730 arrests in 2019 and 1,405 arrests in 2018. But while the numbers of investigations and arrests grew, the number of indictments did not – in fact, they declined, which means that most of these crimes remain unsolved. In 2020, only 220 indictments were issued, which are only 5.5 percent of cases opened. In contrast, 2019 saw double the number of indictments issued – 486. In 2018, 523 indictments were served.

The document states that in 2020 a record number of shootings were reported – 1,655 – of which 90 percent involved non-Jews. The number of murders involving firearms in the Arab community also rose.

According to the document, murders in Arab communities remain mostly unsolved because of the difficulties the police have in gaining the cooperation of the community in their investigations. “In most cases those under interrogation do not cooperate and sometimes obstruct the investigation,” Sisso wrote.

Due to the failure of enforcement, Sisso states that even ordinary families find themselves hoarding illegal weapons to maintain the ability to defend themselves if needed. “Among some in the Arab public, including normative citizens, firearms are a means of dealing with internal conflicts in the community, and with struggles for control among crime organizations, or as a substitute for turning to the police or the courts. Against this backdrop, a good many people in the Arab community possess weapons to protect their lives and the lives of their families. Investigations officials have the impression that they are in possession of weapons as a kind of insurance policy [providing them with] strength and fortitude. In addition, in the culture of the Arab community, the firing weapons to express joy is seen on a daily basis at celebrations,” Sisso wrote.