At the entrance to the Jawarish neighborhood in the city of Ramle stands a checkpoint with two police cars that stop every vehicle going in and out of the neighborhood. “Why are you coming here?” “Where did you come from?” “What’s your ID number?” the two officers stationed there ask each and every driver. Only after entering the driver’s ID number into her iPad and checking the name that pops up does the officer allow a resident to enter his or her own neighborhood.
Not any neighborhood, but the most dangerous neighborhood in Israel. Last year, three people were murdered in Jawarish itself and even more people with a connection to it were murdered outside its borders. In the first two months of 2022, four residents have already been murdered. Other, non-lethal violence occur there too.
Behind the crime wave are many factors at play, but the main one is internecine warfare inside the Jaroushi clan. One of Israel’s most powerful crime families, the Jaroushis have been torn apart by a bloody power struggle between Zeid Jaroushi and his cousins, Emir and Hatim.
Last May, Hatim was stabbed to death near al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Since then, other family members have been killed as well, including Zeid’s brother, Yusuf, who was shot to death along with his wife Nawal and his 16-year-old daughter Riyan.
Commander Ronen Avnieli, the Shfela District police chief, told Haaretz, that the feud is “the neighborhood’s crime generator” and said “I’m responsible for changing that.”
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As they have in response to earlier waves of violence, the police have recently stepped up activity in Jawarish, whose practical effect has been to impose a sort of police rule. Checkpoints have been set up at its two main entrances and in select points inside the neighborhood to force drivers into predetermined routes. Both the army’s Border Police and the state police patrol the area regularly. State-of-the-art security cameras have been installed and raids conducted on arms caches. In addition, a community police station was established in the neighborhood in February 2021.
Opinions about the police campaign vary among the residents. Some support the police, while others detest their presence, but most residents express indifference. “They’ve done it before, and it didn’t work,” says one. “It won’t work now, either.”
If there is any consensus among neighborhood residents, it’s fury over the police’s blocking of a dirt road that passes underneath Route 431, which they say it unnecessarily disruptive to their daily lives.
Avnieli defends the move by explaining that blocking unofficial roads into and out of the neighborhood makes it harder for criminals to operate. The road under 431 is used by criminals to get to arms caches and as a getaway route for killers. This is “the artery through which evil comes and leaves,” he says Avnieli.
But the same road also serves farmers whose plots are on the other side of the highway, workers in nearby municipalities and elementary school students living in a Bedouin village near Rehovot who study at a school in the neighborhood. “It used to be a five-minute drive,” says Sliman, a driver who takes children to school and back. “Now it takes 40 minutes.”
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights has appealed to the attorney general and the police to have the blockade be removed. According to the organization, police acted “without authority and contrary to law” and are harming residents’ freedom of movement. “This is not the first time we have seen such obstacles erected under the guise of law enforcement,” says Adi Mansour, an attorney with the group. “In previous cases [two in Lod and one in Jdeideh-Makr], the police removed the barricades before the issue got to court.”
One of the victims of the roadblock is Dr. Yusef Mughrabi, a physician whose family owns land across Route 431. As Mughrabi tells it, in 2006 the government confiscated land to develop the road and nearby train tracks with the understanding that it would provide a “public agricultural passageway” underneath the highway that would give residents access to their land. Now the police are blocking the passage with concrete slabs covered in soil.
“Tell me, does this make sense?” Mughrabi asks. “Has this collective punishment solved the problem of crime in the neighborhood?”
When the police stepped up anti-crime activity in the neighborhood in the past, a squad car was stationed on the road or the police would block access for a limited time. “Now they’ve closed it for good,” says Mughrabi. “They want no one to come through here.”
The police don’t deny that, but they justify the measure as part of their efforts to control criminal activity by monitoring everyone entering or leaving the neighborhood, even if it comes at the cost of compromising residents’ quality of life.
“We’ve conducted an in-depth analysis, checked every other option,” a police source explains. “There are also very good people using this road. We’d like everything to be open and accessible, but we can’t let it continue to be used as a funnel for crime.”
The option of traversing the dirt mound on foot is reserved for those capable of it. Last Thursday at noon, it was a few-dozen children on their way to school. They walked up the mound, placing their feet on previously established stepping points. One of them, a boy of about six, felt particularly confident and slid the whole way down from the top. Sliman the driver waited for them with his old Chevy Savana. “I do three rounds each time,” he says. “Luckily, it’s not raining today. If it was, I’d have to come all the way around because everything here would have been mud. Kids can’t walk this road.”
Mughrabi points at the dirt mound as evidence. “You see what they did here?” he says. “If that’s the solution to crime, we’re in trouble.”
When I argue that perhaps this is a way of reducing the neighborhood's homicide rate, Mughrabi replies that the government should solve the problem, and that won’t come just through stepped-up police measures. “It requires fundamental treatment,” says Mughrabi. “This place has been neglected for years – in education, in employment, in infrastructure.” The police campaign, he asserts, is harming residents more than anyone else.
“Last night I came home late, and at the checkpoint at the neighborhood’s entrance they asked me where I’m going. When I replied ‘home,’ the policeman said, ‘I don’t know you.’ I answered, ‘It’s good that you don’t know me,’” Mughrabi recounts. “People have this stereotype of everyone in Jawarish being a criminal. The police think so, too, and it’s hurtful.”
Avnieli denies the accusation. “The object is to prevent people from getting hurt, and to ensure safety. We’re focused only on the criminals,” he says. “As part of our tactics, we have said that alongside values such as firmness and resolve, the police in Jawarish have been and will continue to act with patience, compassion and mercy towards the innocent.”