Despite warnings from various quarters against using the Shin Bet security service to deal with violent crime in Israel’s Arab communities, the policy guiding Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the state’s decision-makers is “go in, guns blazing” without considering the long-term implications. Well, the truth is that there were no expectations, and therefore no disappointment, from people who do not know anything about life in Arab communities and certainly don’t live in the poor neighborhoods and lethal alleyways where the shootings occur.
But we can expect Arab leaders to make their voice heard and to express the Arab public’s position and mood. United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas, for example, was appointed back in the days of the Netanyahu government to chair the Special Knesset Committee for Eradicating Crime in the Arab Sector. He told the Knesset in November: “I’m here to represent every innocent person who has been murdered.” A very moving declaration indeed.
And what happened this week? That same Mansour Abbas said in an interview with Channel 12 News that he does not oppose using the Shin Bet in the fight against crime in the Arab communities. “The address from my point of view is the government. It is responsible, it is supposed to provide individual and community security for the citizens of this country, Jews and Arabs,” he said, adding: “All the tools it has, all the agencies it has, it will use within the law and ensuring human rights and dignity, and we will achieve results.”
But how exactly will you achieve results, Abbas? I’m really asking because the tolerance you demonstrate for using of an intelligence agency within civilian society legitimizes an anti-democratic step and in fact, turns every Arab citizen into a suspect. Do you think the residents of the communities in which Shin Bet operatives will begin to work will welcome this move? As a representative of the Arab public in a government in which the civil rights of Arabs are not a paramount concern, you have a grave responsibility. You are the one that must ask questions: How exactly will the Shin Bet operate in Arab communities? What kind of supervision will there be? To what extent will the action be in coordination with Arab community leaders?
The silence or consent to fielding the Shin Bet in Arab communities is no coincidence. It seems that from Abbas’ point of view, as from that of other Arab public figures, sending the Shin Bet – or for that matter special military or paramilitary units – into Arab communities is suddenly seen as a magic solution instead of a slippery slope that will deepen the societal divides and hurt the already fragile state of trust between law enforcement and Arab society.
Abbas should, perhaps, look at the report of the Or Commission which investigated the events of October 2000 – especially the part that stresses the importance of improving police services in Arab communities. It’s a huge leap from improving police services to using the Shin Bet. This is precisely the time when an Arab leader should show backbone and prevent infringement of the civil rights of his voters.
Abbas now has an opportunity to speak about the meaning and implications of using the Shin Bet in Arab communities and to bring those communities into the discussion. Otherwise, the change that the new government promised, and in the name of which Abbas joined it – will manifest itself in a decline in all aspects of the relationship with the country’s Arab citizens.