A lack of coordination among the police, the Israeli army and the Shin Bet security service is hindering effective law enforcement in Israel's Arab towns and villages, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira stated in a report released on Wednesday.
The report surveyed the handling by the police of cases involving illegal possession or use of firearms among the country's Arab population between 2014 and 2016, and noted that the number of such cases increased significantly. Almost all of the cases involving the discharge of a firearm in a residential area — 95 percent — took place in Arab communities. For its part, the police and Public Security Ministry said in response to the report that the situation improved significantly last year and this year.
The Shin Bet’s failure to pass intelligence information on to the police on a regular basis made it difficult to enforce the law, Shapira wrote. Likewise, the army wasn't sharing findings and evidence from its raids on weapon factories in the West Bank with the police, the report said.
Despite efforts by the police, incidents of illegal use of weapons in the Arab community increased. In 2016 the number of cases involving the theft of weapons parts rose by 75 percent compared to 2015. Weapon smuggling from Jordan and the manufacture of improvised weapons in the portions of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority also rose, the report stated. In addition, the shortage of police officers serving the Arab community resulted in a drastic reduction in the number of indictments issued for these offenses.
Difficulty in corroborating suspicions in these cases has stemmed in part from the Arab public’s mistrust of the police and eyewitnesses’ refusal to cooperate with investigators, the comptroller wrote, and Arab victims of violence have often refused to file complaints with the police, claiming — out of fear of revenge — that they didn’t know who attacked them. The lack of street names in some Arab communities also makes it difficult to locate the crime scene and gather evidence, it was noted.
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Police data show that the number of Israeli Arabs involved in acts of violence is higher than among the population of the country as a whole. Despite being roughly 20 percent of the population, Arab citizens were involved in 40 percent of violent offenses and in 60 percent of the murder cases — and when it comes to weapons offenses, the rate in the Arab community was more than 17 times that among Israeli Jews, between 2014 and 2016. Some 70 percent of the shooting offenses in the Arab community have been attributed to people without a prior criminal record.
Security cameras are only in operation in 18 Arab locales, about a quarter of all Arab towns and villages. In a third of the communities, the cameras are not connected to a control room, so any surveillance is not carried out in real time. Only 6 percent of the police stations serving the Arab community monitor the security cameras in real time, compared to 20 percent in stations serving the Jewish community.
The police and Public Security Ministry said in response that resolute steps that have been taken “every day of the year against the possession, trade and use of weapons” have resulted in the seizure of unprecedented quantities of weapons in Arab communities. In 2017, police arrested 2,225 suspects in weapons cases, seized thousands of weapons and filed 1,137 indictments, a 40 percent increase over the year before. The number of reported shooting incidents decreased by 16 percent in 2017. In the first half of 2018, the number of arrests was up by 40 percent and the number of indictments rose by 75 percent compared to last year.
The ministry said it is pursuing a program with the police at a cost of about 1 billion shekels ($270 million) to enhance personal safety and increase the police presence in the Arab communities. The program is designed to curb violence and other crime, reduce the number of traffic accidents and to provide the Arab community with a greater sense of law and order.
The ministry said it had also asked the Justice Ministry and State Prosecutor’s office to pursue an amendment to the criminal code that would increase the minimum penalties for weapon-related offenses, but the ministry opposed the move.