Over-policing? Arab Israelis Want to See More Cops in Their Communities

Findings of new study could also help explain why voter turnout among Israeli Arabs is hitting an all-time low

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
An Israeli police officer speaking on the phone with the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah in the background, July 4, 2019.
An Israeli police officer speaking on the phone with the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah in the background, July 4, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

An Arab and a Jew are walking the streets of Tel Aviv when, for no obvious reason, one gets pulled over by police for questioning and is then beaten. No prizes for guessing which one.

Arab citizens, who account for some 20 percent of the country’s overall population, often complain about being subjected to racial profiling and excess police violence — also known as “over-policing.” Yet when it comes to their often fraught relationship with agents of law enforcement, a new study suggests their biggest concern is, in fact, quite the opposite: They are far more worried these days about the “under-policing” of their communities.

“We were not aware of how much a concern this is — but once we saw the data and started connecting the dots, it made complete sense,” says Guy Ben-Porat, chairman of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er Sheva, and co-author of the study “Policing Citizens: Minority Policy in Israel.”

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When police shot dead 12 Israel-Arab citizens during a wave of demonstrations in October 2000, he notes, that was a watershed moment for the community. Since then, according to the study, more than 30 Arab citizens have been killed by police — compared with only three Jewish citizens. But during that same period, some 1,300 Arab citizens were killed because of violence within their own communities, where police stations are either nowhere to be found or few and far between.

Police detaining an Arab protester in the village of Kafr Kana. Credit: Gil Eliahu

“This high number is not incidental but rather, has to do with the fact that these communities are neglected by police,” Ben-Porat tells Haaretz.

Until about 30 years ago, he says, Arab communities were able, “to some extent,” to police themselves through their own traditional governing structures. “As a result, police were not really needed or even desired,” he says. “But changes in Arab society, brought about by such factors as modernization and youth unemployment, have created a need for proper policing that is not being filled.”

Unsolved murders

The study, which began in 2014 and included both questionnaires and focus groups, looks at attitudes to police among four minority groups in Israel: Arab citizens; Ethiopian Israelis; ultra-Orthodox Jews; and Russian-speaking immigrants.

Guy Ben-Porat, co-author of the study “Policing Citizens: Minority Policy in Israel.”Credit: Dani Machlis

Asked to compare police services in their community with those in others, 24 percent of Arab citizens questioned described them as “worse” (compared with only 8 percent among the control group of nonminorities). Asked how they would be treated by police if they filed a complaint about a crime, 13 percent of Arab citizens questioned responded “worse” compared to other groups (and compared with 5 percent in the control group). Among Arab respondents, 20 percent rated the quality of services provided by police as “very low” (compared with 12 percent in the control group).

As proof of the discrimination against them, says Ben-Porat, Arab citizens often cite not only the failure of police to prevent the escalation of violent crimes in their communities, but also the fact that so many murder cases remain unsolved.

But these grievances, he argues, are part of a much larger story. “This is about more than just relationships with the police,” he says. “It’s about how different groups perceive themselves as citizens. When members of a certain group in society don’t feel they are getting the security services they deserve as citizens, then maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they don’t feel strongly about exercising their right to vote.”

Ben-Porat was referring to the fact that voter turnout among Israeli Arabs is lower than among the general population, hitting an all-time low of under 50 percent in the April election.

An Israeli man of Ethiopian descent being arrested by police during the protests against the death of Solomon Teka, July 2019.Credit: Nir Keidar

Among respondents, 18 percent of Arab Israelis said they “strongly disagreed” with the statement “I trust the police” — compared with 11 percent in the control group. Fifteen percent said they “strongly disagreed” that they felt they belonged to the country (compared with 3 percent in the control group), while 14 percent “strongly disagreed” that they were proud to be Israeli citizens (compared with only 1 percent in the control group).

Ethiopian Jews are a far more visible minority than other groups in Israel. And although they too have been the victims of over-policing, only in recent years have they begun to voice their complaints publicly, says Ben-Porat. Although the study was concluded before the latest wave of Ethiopian-Israeli protests — sparked by the shooting death of an 18-year-old member of the community by an off-duty policeman in June — the findings do reflect the erosion of trust in police among members of the community.

“We are seeing the rise of a new generation of Ethiopians,” says Ben-Porat. “On the one hand, they are very patriotic and talk a lot about their military service. But on the other, they’re not afraid to talk about racism in Israeli society.”

Among Ethiopian-Israeli respondents, 20 percent said they “strongly agreed” that police stopped or arrested people in their community for no reason — higher than any other group. Twenty-two percent said they “strongly disagreed” that police treat people fairly — again, higher than any other group.

An ultra-Orthodox youth running across the road during a protest by the Haredi community in Jerusalem, March 2019.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, the study found, have few complaints about their interactions with police on a daily basis. They do believe, though, that officers use excess violence when Haredim take to the streets to demonstrate.

Although Russian-speaking immigrants tend to be critical of police, the study found that they did not feel they were targeted in any way because they belonged to this particular group (which in the past had been associated with disproportionately high levels of organized crime and prostitution).

“It’s a clear sign that they have integrated well into Israeli society,” says Ben-Porat.

The study, co-written with Fany Yuval (also of Ben-Gurion University) and published by Cambridge University Press, is officially launched on Monday at a special event in Tel Aviv sponsored by the New Israel Fund, an organization that supports minority rights in the country.

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