Opinion |

Police Conduct Sends a Message: An Arab Protester Is First and Foremost an Arab

Law enforcement has for years been speaking of efforts to build trust in the Arab community. Its conduct at the protest in Haifa shows the opposite

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Police officers during the protest in Haifa's lower city commercial area, May 18, 2018
Police officers during the protest in Haifa's lower city commercial area, May 18, 2018Credit: Israeli Police Spokesperson's Unit
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The police's conduct at the demonstration in Haifa this weekend leads to one conclusion. The Arab citizen – whether in Haifa, the city of tolerance and co-existence; the "radical" Umm al-Fahm, or in the unrecognized Umm al-Hiran – is first and foremost an Arab. An Arab is a second-class citizen who can be beaten and can be arrested because he dared to protest without obtaining prior approval, and in general because he dared to dirupt the Jewish majority's routine.

The photographs of the arrests in Haifa on Friday night went viral. They were disseminated within minutes in many communities, where residents saw riot police armed head to toe and escorting demonstrators to a police vehicle.

The police say by way of explanation that some protests violated public order and tried to block roads. Even if this claim is true, law enforcement ignored one important thing: the protest in Haifa was one of dozens among Arab society in recent years that were perfectly orderly, even after a highly charged week in which 65 Palestinians at the Gaza border lost their lives.

Disorderly conduct is not a genetic trait that is inherent in Arab citizens. To the contrary, from the events of October 2000 to today, there have been only a few cases in which public events or political protests in Arab society went out of control or ended in violent confrontations.

The police talk about the need for deterrence, but in practice, Arab society's local and national leadership has understood the rules of the game.

The Coast District Police could have ended the event in a different way had they understood the consequences. There were quite a few demonstrations in the last few years, most of which took place without prior approval, but the police approach to them was different. Policemen milled about in the crowd and asked pleasantly to walk on the sidewalk and refrain from blocking the road. Riot police waited at a certain distance in case the protest got out of control, but for the most part the approach succeeded. Protesters protested, and law enforcement maintained public order. In other words, it is possible to behave in a different way, if the police's senior officials desire it and if there is a supportive political echelon.

But the era is a different one, the era of Gilad Erdan and Roni Alsheich. An era in which they want to invest in Arab society, so they open police stations and recruit Arab policemen, but they make every possible mistake along the way. Instead of dealing with rising crime and waging an all-out war against organized crime, they pride themselves on suppressing any sign of protest by the Arab public.

With dialogue and a little common sense, it would have been possible to end it differently, but the approach they chose instead is one of aggression and oppression to show who's the boss.

For the past two years, the police has been talking about increasing activity in Arab society and improving the level of trust the Arab community has in the police. But since the beginning of the year, 22 people have been murdered in Arab communities and in most cases, some of them highly publicized, have not been solved. The state prosecutor's report on Umm al-Hiran only brought into relief how much this disconnection still exists.

The incident in Haifa this weekend reinforced this feeling. If the police really want to bring about a shift in perception and truly want to work to increase trust, the senior officials must change its tune and see Arabs first foremost as citizens – and then turn its attention toward organized crime. That is how to restore trust and enhance security. Otherwise, another hundreds police stations and a thousand policemen will not help.

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