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Israel's Arab Crime Epidemic Shouldn't Be in the Hands of Shin Bet

Haaretz Editorial
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Israeli police at a crime scene in southern Israel in February.
Israeli police at a crime scene in southern Israel in February.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Haaretz Editorial

The wave of homicides in Israel’s Arab communities has not subsided. In recent days, three more victims have been added to the list of Arabs murdered. It’s a list that currently stands at 93 people, representing 70 percent of all the murders in the country so far this year. The situation is unbearable. It also increases Arab citizens’ sense of insecurity, which from the outset was greater than that of Israel’s Jewish citizens.

The police have been standing by helplessly in the face of the crime running rampant in the Arab communities and are having difficulty solving the cases. Since the beginning of the year, only about a fifth of the murder cases in these communities have been solved, in contrast to more than half of the murder cases in the Jewish community. That’s a grave statistic that also harms the deterrent effect of the work of the police and thereby indirectly encourages crime.

In private conversations, senior police officials acknowledge that the police have lost control. “We have lost control of the street in Arab communities. There is no orderly plan to contend with crime, and the commissioner’s job is only to respond to incidents,” said one senior official. “The notion that the department for fighting crime in Arab communities [which was established last month] will change the picture is false. It doesn’t have real operational forces,” he added (as reported by Josh Breiner in Sunday’s Haaretz).

Against this backdrop, some are pressing for the involvement of the Shin Bet security service in the fight against crime, and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai are promoting steps to have the agency join in the fight. That’s a bad and dangerous idea. We must not allow the desire to curb crime to lead to a blurring of the distinction between Israel’s Arab citizens and the country’s enemies, and in effect lead to a duplication of the police – one for Jews and another (the Shin Bet) for Arabs.

It’s a slippery slope that begins with a critical blow to Arabs’ civil rights and in the end leads to military rule. Even if in the short term there is an increase in the number of murder cases solved, the long-term price is a drift into using means reserved for enemies and terrorists and applying them to deal with civilians. Putting such an idea into practice would only increase the hostile attitude toward Arab citizens and reinforce the prejudice that views them as a security risk and fifth column. It would also widen inequality and deepen their lack of trust in the state. Such an idea needs to be nipped in the bud.

The powerlessness of the police needs to be dealt with at a national level, along with a change of priorities and an allocation of resources. In addition to enforcement, the problems that have been encouraging crime in Arab society, such as poverty, unemployment and a lack of trust in the state and its structures, must be addressed. To deal with the issue, a supreme effort on the part of the police needs to be combined with the involvement of government ministries and community institutions, but the effort should not be put into the hands of the Shin Bet.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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