Police Failing to Quell Violence in Jewish-Arab Cities Due to Lack of Intelligence

Police officials are preparing for another week of unrest across Israel, and are concerned about the potential for another fatality in Jewish-Arab clashes or by police fire

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
Border police forces near the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, last month.
Border police forces near the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, last month. Credit: Emil Salman
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The massive riots over the weekend suggest that despite the huge police contingents fighting the violence, mainly in mixed cities, the situation is far from under control as the security forces fail to obtain sufficient intelligence, particularly on Jewish suspects, sources say.

On Friday, tensions eased in Lod and southern cities, while rising in other places, like Kafr Kana, where clashes broke out following the arrest of Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib, the deputy head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. The town became a battlefield on par with the riots in Jaffa and East Jerusalem.

While police have been preparing for another week of unrest across the country, there is a significant lack of quality intelligence, particularly regarding Jewish suspects, preventing police from halting escalations in time.

Such was the case with the attack on an Arab taxi driver in Bat Yam, the riots in Acre and some clashes in Lod. Senior police officials believe that a cease-fire in Gaza would have an immediate impact on riots in the cities, but even so, they expect continued violence in specific hot spots like Lod, Jaffa, Acre and Jerusalem.

Police officials fear two scenarios: either a clash between Jews and Arabs that results in the death of another civilian, similar to the shooting of Musa Hasuna in Lod, or an Arab civilian dying as the result of police fire.

Police commanders consider the death of Hasuna to have contributed greatly to escalations across the country, especially because he was killed by right-wing Jews.The police are thus seeking to prevent armed right-wingers from entering Lod and attempts by right-wing groups like La Familia and Lehava to use social networks to organize rallies in mixed Arab-Jewish cities.

While the police deny the quote attributed to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai that Religious Zionism lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir is responsible for the wave of riots, it is clear that police blame right-wing extremists who seek to confront Arabs. “Another dead Arab will lead to a deterioration of the situation,” one senior police official warned.

Concerns about the police killing an Arab civilian follow the incident late last week when police shot a 15-year-old boy in Lod, after he allegedly tried to throw a Molotov cocktail near a mosque.

That same day police botched the arrest of Khatib in Kafr Kana. Although the police knew that his arrest would spark clashes, they arrested him in the middle of the day using a small force. As expected, hundreds of people gathered to prevent the security forces from leaving, and the officers were trapped for 45 minutes.

The incident involved use of live fire by both sides (partly with illegal arms found in the town) and stone throwing. A commando force was called to the town to extract the police officers. “It was a miracle that the incident ended without anyone being killed,” a senior police officer said.

The police are satisfied that despite hundreds of clashes and riots, there have been no fatalities from police fire. They say it is a testament to the effort demonstrated by police officers to prevent killings at almost any cost. They consider the use of the rifle fired at the boy’s legs in Lod to have been a last resort.

The police still haven’t used all tools at their disposal. Use of riot-dispersal methods has been minimal, and live fire very rare. They still remember well the events of October 2000, when 13 Israeli Arabs were killed, and are maintaining contact with influential Arab public figures to help de-escalate tension and prepare for the days ahead.

“In contrast to the Gaza campaign, life in Lod between Arabs and Jews with police in the middle will continue after the operation,” a police official familiar with operational planning in the city said. “We must not burn bridges with the Arab public.”

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