Israel has promoted an Israeli Arab police officer to deputy commissioner, making him the highest-ranking Muslim to serve in the force.
Gamal Hakroosh is being promoted at a time when Israel is battling a seven month-long wave of Palestinian attacks, though that violence has ebbed in recent weeks. It has nevertheless strained already tense relations between Jews and Israel's Arab minority.
The 59-year-old Hakroosh will oversee the policing of Arab communities, where residents view the Israeli police with suspicion.
"To this day, we did not grant the Arab sector equal law enforcement services. In everything related to the police, we did not act with equality," Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said at the Tel Aviv ceremony for Hakroosh on Wednesday.
Israel plans to add police stations and hundreds of officers to serve Arab communities over the next five years. It has also recently announced a landmark billion-dollar budget intended to improve the living conditions of the Arab community.
Hakroosh hails from Kafr Kana, an Arab town in northern Israel that experienced violent demonstrations in late 2014 after a local man was shot and killed by police. He joined the police force in 1978, serving as station chief in a number of cities.
As deputy commissioner, one rank below the national police chief, he is now the highest-ranking Arab in the force. At least one Druse officer has held the same rank, but Arab Muslims generally are less integrated into Israel's security forces and those who do serve are often viewed as traitors.
Hakroosh beamed as he received his rank in a packed auditorium at Tel Aviv's police headquarters. In the crowd, Arab village leaders, some wearing traditional Arab headdresses, dotted a sea of light blue police uniforms. Flanked by his family, he embraced Erdan, the minister, and police chief Roni Alsheich as the audience burst into applause.
"The police's job is to serve the people and among the people is the Arab citizen, the Arab Israeli citizen, and he deserves service," Hakroosh told The Associated Press. "He deserves that the police stand beside him."
Arabs make up one-fifth of Israel's population of 8 million and as citizens enjoy equal rights. Their community is often viewed with suspicion and accused of siding with their Palestinian brethren.
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