Editorial |

Undercover Cops Don't Help Fight Crime in Israeli Arab Communities

Haaretz Editorial
The scene where 27-year-old Salem al-Harbad was killed by undercover officers, Rahat, Israel, March 2022.
The scene where 27-year-old Salem al-Harbad was killed by undercover officers, Rahat, Israel, March 2022.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Haaretz Editorial

The campaign against crime in Arab communities is of vital importance, and the government did well to give it high priority on the national agenda.

But the incident Tuesday, in which undercover officers disguised as Arabs – mista’arvim – shot and killed a man in the middle of Rahat after he allegedly fired at them, attests to a troubling creep of practices used in the occupied territories against a population under a military rule, into Israel proper, against Israeli citizens.

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According to the police, Sanad Salem al-Harbad, 27, was shot during a joint operation by the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service who were sent to the city to arrest Palestinians living in Israel without a permit. One Palestinian was also a suspect of security-related offenses. Police claim that shots were fired at the mista’arvim, who at some point identified themselves to Harbad as police officers, but it’s not clear when.

The Justice Ministry department that investigates allegations of police misconduct was quick to announce that it will probe the incident. Presumably, it will try to determine when the mista’arvim identified themselves as police officers, what the assessed threat level was and the like.

But the main questions should be addressed not to this unit but to Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Should mista’arvim be used to arrest people living in Israel illegally? Is there justification for sending mista’arvim units to infiltrate Israeli communities as if they were in the West Bank, and to treat Israeli citizens the way Israel treats an occupied population and in the war on terror?

A few months ago, Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz announced a six-month blitz campaign meant “to grasp the reins of the rampage” and restore a sense of personal safety to Israel’s Arab citizens. Since then hundreds of instances have been reported of masked mista’arvim raiding homes in Bedouin communities, backed up by dozens of uniformed police officers, to carry out searches and make arrests.

These operations take place late at night or before sunrise, when family members are still asleep. Most of these cases end without anyone being detained for questioning or arrested, and anyone who is arrested is generally released within hours or days (Nati Yefet, Haaretz Hebrew, Jan. 27).

Here too, one may ask if arrests need to be made in the middle of the night. Don’t the numerous instances of mistaken identity and the brutal arrests prove that they aren’t based on solid intelligence? Are these not merely “showcase” operations by the police?

Israel must not be given a green light to turn Arab communities into a war zone, in the name of the important campaign against crime in these towns. Arrests in the dead of night, the use of mista’arvim against citizens and an approach that views them as enemies must be reserved for only the most exceptional cases.

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

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