With Wary Eye on Gaza, Israel Police Bracing for Renewed Arab-Jewish Violence

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Israel Police officers during protests near Jerusalem's Old City.
Israel Police officers during protests near Jerusalem's Old City.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Israel Police is preparing for renewed rioting in Arab and mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the event of new hostilities between Israel and Gaza, with sources warning that the current calm is only “skin deep.”

The police has gotten treasury approval to buy riot-control equipment through a fast-track process, and has appealed the Public Security Ministry for more funding and manpower in order to meet the heightened risk of rioting within Israel's borders.

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The police’s new working assumption is that any escalation with the Palestinians, especially if it involves the Temple Mount, will require bolstered police presence within Israel's borders, police officials said. For example, police were on alert last weekend in the Wadi Ara area, fearing that concurrent clashes in Jerusalem would spark riots in northern Israel, too.

A police source warned law enforcement officials saw Acre as vulnerable to renewed rioting because tensions in the city have remained high after May’s violence. Arrests in connection with last month’s rioting continue, prompting protests where pro-Palestinian slogans are chanted.

“The quiet right now is only skin deep,” a source who asked not to be identified told Haaretz. “Just as the rioting exploded without warning during Operation Guardian of the Walls, they could start again.”

Police officials spoke about the need to ensure that reserve Border Guard officers can be called up quickly in case of violence and that forces stationed in the West Bank can be redeployed without delays. During the May disturbances, such measures took too long to get underway, they noted. They said that over the next few months, training by the police and Border Guards will focus on riot control.

The Finance Ministry agreed this week to a police request to be exempt from competitive bidding for the purchase of 13.5 million shekels ($4.1 million) of riot-control gear. Part of this procurement is earmarked to replace supplies depleted over April and May, but the rest is to increase stocks to above pre-riot levels in anticipation of renewed rioting. Among the equipment police plan to buy are stun and tear-gas grenades and rubber-coated bullets.

In their request, the police wrote that “until Guardian of the Walls the inventory that had been purchased in 2017 and 2018 was deemed sufficient for the coming years, but now we must acquire new equipment urgently. Undertaking a competitive bidding process requires time that we don’t have under these circumstances.”

In addition to stocking up on extra equipment, the police are warning that they don’t have sufficient manpower. Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said on Monday in the first meeting between top police officials and the new public security minister, Omer Bar-Lev, that the police force is too small for the challenges facing Israel. “It is doing everything it can, but it needs to be strengthened, use more technology and get more resources,” Shabtai said at the meeting.

Police sources said that Shabtai is expected to ask Bar-Lev to seek money for further recruitment.

Meanwhile, Haaretz has learned that during last month's riots police chief Shabtai has eased the conditions for using batons, a tool that has rarely been seen in recent years. The police say that the baton is used to avoid resorting to other means, which have a higher potential to cause harm. A police officials have told Haaretz that the baton can act as a deterrence even by its very presence.

However, in many cases police use the batons aggressively and violently, particularly in Jerusalem. A police source admitted to Haaretz that the very decision to equip police officers with batons could be a catalyst for their overuse. Several residents of East Jerusalem have reported Border Police officers and riot police patrolling the area with batons, and using them to make arrests that had nothing to do with rioting.

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