Street Crime Isn't an Internal Matter for Israel's Arab Community

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Member of Knesset Ayman Odeh in a protest against Israeli police's failure to protect Arab citizens, Shfaram, Israel, May 20, 2019.

Three murders in recent weeks in three different Arab cities have once again highlighted the Arab community’s crisis regarding personal safety. The three victims – Tawfik Zaher of Nazareth, Wissam Yassin of Tamra and Ahmed Daragmeh of Baka al-Garbiyeh – were gunned down by weapons normally carried by criminals. They follow the 21 other Arabs who have been killed this year, and dozens more who have been wounded by gunfire, among them a 9-year-old girl from Kalansua who was seriously wounded by a stray bullet while playing in a public park.

Arab legislators and local officials, along with social activists and clergymen, agree that the war on crime is the most burning issue in Arab society. But despite the many declarations and petitions to the prime minister, defense minister and law enforcement agencies, it doesn’t appear the picture is improving; on the contrary.

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National and local Arab political leaders blame the police for not battling crime in Arab communities effectively and not establishing a deterrent. This helplessness is especially evident regarding the battle against organized crime. A state comptroller’s report has pointed to the police’s shortcomings in handling weapons-possession violations. The police reject claims of mismanagement and boast of their investment in Arab areas, including the opening of new police stations and the allocation of police officers. The police complain that the Arab community is reluctant to cooperate with them.

But Arabs often point to the gap between the police’s handling of security incidents and their handling of criminal incidents as proof that when the state wants to, it can operate its law enforcement agencies effectively. Many Arabs feel that the state sees crime in their communities as an internal matter, and as long as it’s confined to that “backyard” and doesn’t threaten the Jewish majority, the state won’t rush to address it properly.

Indeed, the police’s actions so far have been insufficient. Along with more police stations, there has to be dialogue with the community and most of all results – like solving murder cases soon after the killings. Only when offenders are caught and prosecuted will deterrence return, as well as the Arab community’s trust.

None of this reduces the accountability of the Arab community and its leaders. They bear considerable responsibility in the social and educational spheres. But fighting crime and catching criminals is ultimately the state’s job. The prime minister and the Public Security Ministry must advance a strategic plan, in cooperation with the relevant government ministries and Arab representatives, to fight crime in Arab society. This must be done urgently to prevent additional victims.

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

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