Israeli Police Arrest Hundreds of Arabs in Crackdown Leaders Warn Could Reignite Tensions

The police say they want to 'restore deterrence' after a wave of Jewish-Arab mob violence, but Arab leaders fear that political activists will be arrested too and that the police only act when Jews' safety is at stake

Jack Khoury
Josh Breiner
Deiaa Haj Yahia
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Israeli police making arrests on Tuesday, as part of a crackdown on Arab suspects.
Israeli police making arrests on Tuesday, as part of a crackdown on Arab suspects.Credit: Israel Police
Jack Khoury
Josh Breiner
Deiaa Haj Yahia

Israel Police arrested more than 300 suspects this week, the vast majority of whom are Arab, on suspicion of involvement over the past two weeks in the riots and clashes in Arab towns and mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

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About 60 of the suspects have been brought before judges to have their detentions extended. The others were released after questioning. Police said 15 percent of all those detained were Jewish, but only two out of the 60 brought before judges indeed were. The remaining 58 were all Arab.

Thousands of police officers have been involved in the arrest operation, which began early Monday morning, the police said. Despite criticism by public leaders, police officials plan to move on with the operation with dozens more arrests by the end of the week.

The unrest over the past month initially erupted in Jerusalem over the police presence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and tensions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood due to a pending eviction case filed by a Jewish company against Palestinian residents.

Clashes between Israeli Jews and Arabs spread around the country, particularly in towns with both Jewish and Arab populations, escalating after the all-out military confrontation that erupted between Israel and Hamas. In the Arab-Jewish town of Lod, a Jewish man died of his injuries from an attack and a number of synagogues were torched. A mosque was also attacked. In the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam a brutal attack on an Arab man was caught on camera and broadcast live on Channel 11.

Police in Acre during the disturbances this month. Credit: Rami Shllush

A large number of those detained in the police operation live in East Jerusalem and are suspected of rock-throwing, shooting flares and rioting. Others from the Haifa and Wadi Ara areas in the north are suspected of violent offenses and illegal weapons possession. Thirty-two Negev residents are suspected of rioting and possessing illegal weapons.

One of the goals of the operation has been to “restore deterrence and increase governance in locations with a history" of violence, the police said.

Among those arrested were Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel. He called his arrest political and claimed that it was aimed at "satisfying" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.

Farah expressed outrage that he was investigated on suspicion of organizing young Arabs to attack Jews and said he has spent his life "building a future for both peoples." He said that under questioning, he told the police that Arabs in Haifa had been attacked by gangs of racist Jews whom the police have not arrested. Farah said he was released on a 2,000 shekel ($615) personal bond.

Israel's Higher Arab Monitoring Committee held a press conference on Tuesday, in which it criticized the wave of arrests. Committee chairman Mohammed Barakeh said the Arab public will not agree to sit on the “defendants' bench." He demanded that the police halt the arrest operation and close the cases against the suspects.

“The right to political protest is a legitimate right,” he said, warning that an escalation by the police would "set the ground on fire again.”

“The government of Israel bears responsibility for all of the escalation,” Barakeh said. “We will not be sheep led to jail by Ohanas' and Netanyahu's police.” The monitoring committee will hold protests in front of police stations all over the country if its demands are not met, he added.

A burned-out car in Jaffa after the Jewish-Arab mob violence this month. Credit: Moti Milrod

In the operation Monday, which began early in the morning, thousands of police officers took part. The police said they sought to “reinstate deterrence” in places with a history of street violence around Israel.

Monday’s operation began “with high intensity and a thorough deployment against the rioters, criminals and everyone who was involved in the riots,” the police said.

As part of the operation, the police plan to move against crime organizations too, including arrests for illegal weapon possession.

'Where were they?'

Arab officials criticized the arrest operation, saying the police act against criminals only when the safety of Jewish Israelis is at stake. Arab mayors met Monday with police chief Kobi Shabtai and criticized the actions of the police in Arab towns and neighborhoods in the course of the arrests.

Public figures have expressed fears that as part of the operation, the police would arrest political activists.

“For years we’ve been begging for the Shin Bet [security service] to enter the picture in the fight against crime in the our community against the crime families,” a mayor said at the meeting. “But now suddenly when it concerns fears of harming Jews and the police, there are resources and there is the Shin Bet.”

The chairman of the committee of Arab mayors, Mudar Yunis, told Haaretz that the mayors protested to Shabtai about what they called the police’s violence and wide-scale arrests against young Arab men and women. According to him, the police are talking about restoring faith in the police, but the steps they are taking are not contributing to it.

“Suddenly, the police have woken up and want to conduct a law and order operation,” said MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List). “How is it that now the police can collect cameras and check them? Where were they when crime ran wild in the Arab community? It seems that when it’s about saving lives in the Arab community, the police don’t move.”

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