The death of Mohammed Taha of Kafr Qasem early Tuesday morning during clashes between police and local residents once again reveals the complex relationship between Arab society in Israel and the police and the lack of faith between them. The fact that a civilian security guard, not a police officer, fired the fatal shots does not improve the grim picture.
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The clashes during which Taha was shot broke out in the context of the shut-down of Kafr Qasem’s schools in protest over police inaction at stopping violence. The residents have established municipal guard committees, made up of the town’s young people, in an attempt to maintain order and keep criminals out. But the police are against these committees because they say they can’t allow local organizations to carry out policing functions. Even if the police are right, the phenomenon reflects the vacuum in Arab communities into which unwanted elements enter.
It seems that the police and the Public Security Ministry refuse to recognize that the Arabs of Israel are citizens of the state and that it is their right to receive police services and protection just like any other citizens. Meanwhile, Arab society suffers from a proliferation of violence, frequently gun violence. Since the beginning of this year, 32 Arabs have been murdered, 27 of them by guns in criminal incidents. Many of the victims paid with their lives as a result of a power struggle among criminals.
More police substations have been added in Arab communities out of a desire to improve the sense of personal security, but public faith in the police has not grown and the violence has not decreased. That is because police presence isn’t enough, and can't replace skilled professionals who can deal with the seriousness and extent of crime.
Dealing with this depends first and foremost on policy. The required change of policy doesn’t depend only on the police, but on the government and especially the Public Security Ministry, because fundamental changes in approach and strategy are needed. Instead of the current focus of the police on fighting minor foot-soldiers in crime organizations, this policy must declare all-out war on crime organizations operating in Arab society. The police, for its part, must go after the crime bosses and the murderers and bring them to justice.
The government as a whole, and the police in particular, must understand that they are obligated to the security of Israel’s Arab citizens no less than to the security of its Jewish citizens. Otherwise, the lack of faith will only grow and could devolve into a systemic breakdown in relations between the state and its Arab citizens.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.