An Arab Police Chief in Israel, Now

Zehava Galon
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Israeli paramedics evacuate an Arab Israeli man after an attempted lynch by Jewish rioters in Bat Yam,  today.
Zehava Galon

The events of this past week are threatening the ability of Jewish and Arab Israelis to live together. The situation is so dire, that it is forcing us to take drastic steps: Before Israeliness disappears into thin air, we must prove to the Arab citizens that they are indeed citizens. For purposes of building trust, we must open the state’s enforcement mechanisms to them; we must show them that state power, which has been directed against them, can and must also work to their benefit. In short, the time has come to appoint an Arab police commissioner in Israel.

Of course, before a new police commissioner is appointed it will be necessary to dismiss the current one, Kobi Shabtai. Having come from the Border Police, he knows the Palestinians only from the other side of the truncheon and is the person who after his police officers injured more than 500 Palestinians in Jerusalem, complained that the police showed too much restraint. True, he also said that there were “terrorists on both sides and we will bring each and every one of them to justice,” and this aroused the ire of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s toady Public Security Minister Amir Ohana. Is that a cause for excitement? Ohana, who has used his ministerial position for purposes of incitement, should have been fired long ago.

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Arab society has been suffering for many years from systemic neglect on the part of the state of Israel, which has taken care to grab as much as possible of the Arabs’ lands while at the same time denying them any avenues for development. The number of new townships Israel has built for its Arab citizens is zero and it has consistently denied master plans to Arab municipalities. Nor does the state allow the Arab towns to establish development zones. The result is poverty imposed from above, impoverishment of Israel’s Arab inhabitants, a move similar to redlining in the United States, which led to ghettoes of Blacks. And poverty breeds crime.

The Arab Knesset members have been crying out for help for more than a decade now because Arab society is inundated with weapons, because of the crime that has led to a large number of murders, because the police have consistently failed to solve those murders and because instead of seeing to the welfare of Arab citizens, police have acted like a military organization when dealing with them. And nothing happens.

The Arab citizens who were kept by the young state of Israel under a military government until 1966 have known its security services mainly as an enemy force. Land Day commemorates the killing, injuring and mass arrests of Arab citizens during protests in 1976. In the events of October 2000, 13 Arab civilians were killed by police in the course of demonstrations. The official commission of inquiry led by Supreme Court Justice Theodore Or enumerated a list of failings, among them a police culture of whitewashing and lying, but not a single police officer was dismissed and no one was brought to trial or paid for the killing of 13 civilians.

If we want to repair the situation and build trust with the Arab citizens, an Arab citizen must be appointed police commissioner, along with Arab police district commissioners and massive recruiting of Arabs to the police force. This will enable a total change of the Israel Police’s approach and its transformation into a community-oriented agency.

All of this is unfolding under the shadow of the Nakba: Israeli Arabs are worried about the precedent and people like MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) are reminding them, again and again, that their citizenship is provisional. We must show the Arab collective in Israel that it is an integral part of us and we must ensure that equality applies to them, as is essential in every democratic regime. What’s more, we must put the state’s power at their disposal, so that the state’s power to use violence, which thus far has been directed against them, will serve them. And we must show them that there is no license to kill Arab citizens.

No one thinks this will be easy. However, as in the lyrics of Ehud Manor’s popular song, we have no other country, even if our land is on fire. We must act, and quickly, because when Israeliness disappears once and for all, there will be only an abyss here; our home will become a shark’s maw.

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