Israeli policemen detain an Arab youth during clashes in the southern town of Rahat.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Although Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett’s comments this week regarding high crime rates in Arab areas created a media sensation, the issue is not a new one for the Arab community.
On the contrary, community leaders say, it is one that they and the police have been trying fix for years.
Reda Jaber, the executive manager of the Aman Center – The Arab Center for a Safe Society, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that “Arab society has suffered from violence and crime for many years, and there is a strong demand for policing and security.”
Arab citizens deserve equal rights to policing services, he continued, but what Bennett wants to do is “control Arab society,” since he sees it “as a threat, not a population that deserves rights.”
He added that “because of Bennett’s background, we are suspicious of his views and see them as coming from racism.”
The Arab public, he argued, “should be viewed through the lens of deserving equality and not that of a security threat.”
Earlier this week, dozens of high school students from the Arab sector, as well as students wearing Meretz shirts, walked out of a speech Bennett was giving after he said that the country’s internal security had been in a downward spiral for the past decade and that citizens in the Negev could not even park their cars without being afraid someone would break in and steal their valuables – apparently an allusion to Beduin.
Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund – an NGO that has been dealing extensively with reforming the police for over a decade in order to better serve the Arab public – told the Post that Bennett’s statements about crime in Arab areas “verged on incitement.”
“Bennett did not take into account that the morning after the elections, Arab and Jews will need to live in coexistence, and so he needs to be more responsible,” said Be’eri-Sulitzeanu.
The Abraham Fund has been working with the Arab community to change its perspective of the police and improve cooperation and trust – efforts the fund says have also aided in changing police attitudes toward Arabs.
“We have seen some gradual positive changes in attitudes of the police and the local Arab leadership,” Be’eri-Sulitzeanu noted, adding that one result had been an increased police presence in Arab towns, including the establishment of more police stations.
The police training has dealt with the specific needs and cultural aspects of dealing with the Arab public, he said.
Asked if one solution might be to recruit more Arab policemen, Be’eri-Sulitzeanu responded that getting Arabs into leadership roles in the police was one component, but that the police “need to be much more inclusive, as the current attitude is not welcoming for Arab recruits.”
“There is still a long way to go,” he said.Lidar Gravé-Lazi contributed to this report.