The murder committed by Nashat Melhem at the Hasimta bar in Tel Aviv obligated the Shin Bet security service and the police to investigate the incident with all means at its disposal and to bring all those involved to justice, as is required in a properly run state. However, the overt investigations carried out to date, in particular, the search for Melhem and his accomplices in north Tel Aviv and in Wadi Ara, raise questions about the police’s conduct and attitude toward Arab citizens.
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Last week Haaretz reported the complaints of students and other young Arabs who claimed that during searches of their homes in north Tel Aviv, policemen damaged their property, dumped their clothing and turned over furniture. In other cases, Arab students reported that police entered their homes without a warrant and began to question them. One young man from Arara, Melhem’s hometown, said he was interrogated in his home even though there was nothing found in it to indicate that Melhem might have been there. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that these people were paid a visit by police solely because they are Arabs.
An even stronger expression of this trend was seen this week in the searches police conducted in homes in Wadi Ara, which resulted in damage to property as well as a vehicle parked near the home of one of Melhem’s suspected accomplices. Videos taken at the site show that the police conduct, which became a rampage, was not unavoidable. This raises concerns that the police’s actions were not part of a legitimate investigation, but rather meant as collective punitive measures. The police claim — that its officers acted lawfully in accordance with the circumstances —is not persuasive given the fact that the residents cooperated with police and did not put up any resistance that justified violence against them or damage to their property.
From the moment the January 1 attack occurred, the residents of Arara, like representatives of the Arab community and the heads of their local councils, vehemently condemned the murders. There were no expressions of sympathy for the act or for the terrorist, and the Melhem family agreed to abide by all the police conditions regarding their son’s funeral, so as to close another chapter in this painful affair.
The police, however, do not operate in a vacuum, but rather in tandem with the message conveyed by the Israeli government and its leader, who incite against Arab citizens. Given this dangerous message, it’s important to reiterate that the entire Melhem family, the residents of Arara, and the Arab citizens of Israel are not to blame for the murders. In a democratic state, the police and security forces must conduct themselves as professional agencies responsible for the security of all citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. This cannot be undermined by the evil winds blowing from the government.