Restoring Security in Arab Communities

Weapons collected during gun-collection campaign in 2019.
Israel Police

How does one create a sense of security? First of all, the state must establish a good policing system – an effective but fair one. This means a permanent presence in communities, with police officers seeing themselves as public servants. An important part of their role is crime prevention; responding rapidly when incidents occur; intervening to nip crime in the bud, just like in Jewish communities; ceasing to constantly try to turn criminals into collaborators; and delivering equitable public services to Arab citizens, who deserve protection, without relating to them as a security threat.

Secondly, one has to deal with the deeper roots of violence. This includes the elimination of poverty in Arab communities, since this is a well-established cause of crime; improving the education system as a key for better integration into the workforce; the establishment and operation of youth centers, with sport and leisure facilities that offer the nargila (hookah) generation other alternatives; increasing available land and relieving the dire housing shortage that causes great stress in these communities; and developing financial tools that increase accessibility to capital and credit, thereby avoiding the need to take out loans in the grey market, a major source of violence.

Thirdly, one must enhance the fight against criminals and gangs through stricter law enforcement and stiffer sentences. Criminal elements aren’t interested in a sense of security (on the contrary, they thrive in societal chaos) and they will never voluntarily surrender their weapons. Thus, seizing weapons they possess will require determined police action. Assertive action is required, but using Border Police units must be avoided since these are mainly used against security threats and actually further erode the sense of security among Arab citizens. Regular police forces are totally capable of enforcing the law. These actions are not pleasant, certainly not for lawbreakers, but often not for their families and neighbors either. However, communities must lend their support and assistance to these actions since they distinguish between the vast majority of law-abiding citizens and the criminal minority that harms the rest.

A further and important role Arab community leaders must assume is the clear and outspoken expression of total opposition to any form of violence. It is particularly important that the entire leadership strongly condemn violence that is employed in matters that Arab society can control, such as acts of vengeance, the murder of women and violence in the family. Growing numbers of leaders are finding the courage to oppose these phenomena, but not everyone is on board yet.

All these steps are essential in order to create a basic sense of security, which is a necessary condition for reducing the number of weapons on the street. With that, it’s important to continue with drives aimed at voluntary gun collection in exchange for immunity from prosecution. One must not wait for all the other steps mentioned here to be implemented. One must be realistic regarding the effectiveness of these campaigns: in the first week of the present drive, nine weapons were collected, compared to one in the first drive, held a year ago. These aren’t large numbers, but it’s reasonable to assume that if these campaigns continue on a regular basis, with the cooperation of municipalities and the population, a positive momentum and confidence will be fostered. It will start as a trickle and later become a stream. This all depends on whether the other aforementioned steps are also adopted and if this leads to a significant improvement in the sense of security.

The pointless arguments over who is responsible for violence and criminality in Arab society, as well as over the current “failure” in the gun-collecting campaign, must be replaced by a collaborative and integrated campaign of all ministries and state authorities, with true cooperation with Arab society, both in planning and in implementation. It’s obvious what is needed, only the desire to do it is required.

The writers are co-executive directors of the Abraham Initiatives, a Jewish-Arab organization promoting integration and equality between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.