The cabinet approved a plan on Monday to combat the surging violence and crime in the Israeli Arab community, amid un uptick in cases of gun violence and a wave of protests calling on authorities to tackle the issue.
The plan does not meet Arab elected officials’ demands in addressing the problem, which is widely seen among Israeli Arabs as a major concern.
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Arab Knesset members and mayors harshly criticized the plan and alleged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had chosen to defer large portions of it until after the March 23 Knesset election so that he would not actually have to carry it out.
In its vote on Monday, the cabinet approved an allocation of 150 million shekels ($45.4 million) in immediate funding, to be directed primarily to the construction or expansion of five police stations in Arab towns. A portion of the funds is also earmarked for the construction of two fire stations, for community service buildings and for the creation of a special police unit to fight crime in the Arab community.
The cabinet resolution also provides for an additional cabinet vote within 120 days on a detailed five-year crime prevention program.
The proposal approved Monday provides that the Public Security Ministry and the Israel Police will organize weapon-collection drives in Arab towns and confiscate illegal weapons. It also calls for the convening of an interministerial committee to address the problem of smuggling of illegal weapons into Israel.
The plan also includes a 1 million-shekel advertising campaign to counter violence in the Arab community and the development of a plan to combat the problem of domestic violence that is to be tailored to the needs of various Arab communities. The plan was approved after prime minister held talks in recent weeks with Arab mayors. Representatives of the Arab mayors’ committee presented Netanyahu with a list of demands including support for municipal policing, the strengthening of social services and of the informal education system and addressing the problems of at-risk youth.
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Monday’s cabinet decision does not address those concerns, however. A number of Arab mayors expressed disappointment with the decision, calling the plan a very limited program that does not meet even the most minimal needs of local Arab governments. The mayors alleged that the plan focuses mainly on police station construction and strengthening the police – and defers the main recommendations of a taskforce established at the Prime Minister’s Office until after the election. The mayor’s group has not issued a formal response to the cabinet resolution, however, saying that its representatives wished to study the plan first.
The mainly Arab Joint List party alleged that the plan shows that the prime minister does not intend to rein in crime in the Arab community. “The plan speaks of 150 million shekels out of a police budget of 13 billion [and] which is nearly entirely earmarked for opening police stations – all of that for a plan that even if it does comes to fruition will be extended over [a period of] years.”
“The government has no intention of battling organized crime, in contrast with prior decisions relating to Netanya and Nahariya, in which a decision was made to eliminate crime organizations in the Jewish community,” the Joint List said. “This is a public relations plan for Netanyahu’s election campaign. One should not believe it or be drawn into his lies.”
A number of Arab mayors spoke out against the plan, including Kafr Qara mayor Firas Badahi. In an interview Monday with Nazareth-based Al-Shams radio, Badahi said the plan only provided “crumbs” that in no way address the needs. If the government had actually been serious about pursuing this, it would not have deferred approval of other sections of the plan while making “cynical use,” as he called it, of the fight against crime in the Arab community just prior to the election.
The chairman of the United Arab List, Mansour Abbas, who chairs the Knesset Special Committee on Eradicating Crime in Arab Society and has been seen as a potential political ally of the prime minister, said although the plan was far from comprehensive, it was a “first step towards achieving a solution.” The test will come in closely following how the plan is implemented and whether the required resources are provided, he said.
Staff at the nonprofit Abraham Initiatives organization, which is to provide support for the implementation of the plan, described it as a first step in the right direction, but added that its focus on the construction and upgrading of police stations is inadequate.
“In the present situation, it’s impossible to make do with the steps proposed in the plan and to wait another half year, in the best case, for approval of the five-year plan,” the organization said, noting that “490 days have elapsed since the prime minister first announced the establishment of a team to develop a plan to deal with the plague of violence and crime. During that time, 127 Arab men and women have been murdered. It would have been appropriate, based on the comprehensive work coordinated by the team in the Prime Minister’s Office, for a systematic and holistic plan to have been adopted immediately.”
The cabinet’s decision followed violent confrontations on Friday in the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm between protesters and the police in which a man was seriously injured. In the wake of the incident, there have been calls in the Arab community to remove police stations from Arab towns. The Umm al-Fahm municipality announced a two-week suspension of community policing activity in the city, and on Friday of this week, a mass demonstration is expected at the entrance to the city in protest over police violence directed at Arab residents.