Following the murder of Eric Karp last month, the Petah Tikva Municipality has geared up efforts to discourage interaction between local teenage girls and older Arab Israeli men.
One of the young women who was with the group that allegedly killed Karp while he was out with his family, was from Petah Tikva. Local youth counselors say it is a phenomenon that puts the teenagers at risk. "What happened at Tel Baruch [beach] wasn't a surprise," said Nurit Tibi, the director of Petah Tikva's youth counseling center.
For the last year and a half, the municipality, in cooperation with ELEM Youth In Distress In Israel and the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, has been operating a street crew of youth-care professionals and volunteers, in an effort to identify and assist teenagers at risk, among them some who have fallen victim to exploitation by Arab men.
Tibi spoke about teenagers, sometimes girls as young as 11 or 12, who come from dysfunctional homes and who are often outside of the school system. These young women, mainly immigrants from the FSU who suffer from identity problems, form relationships with young men who come to the city at night to drink alcohol, do drugs and meet girls.
"The men offer them gifts, buy them clothes and take them out and expect sexual favors in return. We see this as sexual exploitation, not romantic relationships," said Tibi. Roughly 30 teenage girls, whom the city knows about, are in this situation.
"There was one case when a police officer pulled over a car where a teenager was riding with an Arab," said Tibi. "He called the girl's parents and told them that though it wasn't an offense, he thought they should know. Later the girl struck out at me, saying, 'He's a person, too.'
"Of course he's a person. The problem is that he's a person on the fringes of his society, who comes here looking for the solution in the fringes of our society and finds an easy target to exploit," Tibi said.
Legal means of deterring the phenomenon were unlikely to work, she said. Even though the girls are minors, it would be extremely difficult to file rape charges. What they can do, said Tibi, is offer them an alternative. Two evenings a week, the city's street crew goes to the places where the young people congregate, mostly parks, city squares and other public places, and brings with it hot drinks, snacks and games. "The idea is to form a relationship with the youths, so that they feel comfortable in their presence."
"Many of them have trust issues with adults. They have had bad experiences with them in the past," said Elin Cooperman, director of ELEM in Petah Tikva. "By being around and being available, we hope to draw them into discussion and hopefully, down the line, into a regulated environment where they can reevaluate their life choices and open options for the future," said Cooperman.
The municipality has sent out a message in the local press calling for volunteers for a new "residents patrol."
"The idea is to have groups of people who go out at nights, targeting the known meeting areas and keeping an eye on the youth," said municipal spokesman Hezi Hakak.
Tamer Massalha, spokesman for the Mossawa Center, the Advocacy
Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, calls the initiative an incitement to racism and violence.
"It is a type of dehumanization of the Arab public. We are considering taking legal action against Petah Tikva Municipality and the people who stand at its head," said Massalha.
"These things are dangerous. They are calling out for violence, calling out to apprehend Arab youths who are in Petah Tikva for employment or studies and lynching them," said Masalha. "These things are not new too. They are blood libels that are repeated time after time. Those who should examine themselves thoroughly are the public leaders who have taken racism to another level."
"There are young men and women who meet with each other, sometimes they are in a romantic relationship and sometimes they are friends.
"Some of the relationships are good and some aren't. We are no different than any other segment of the population and the human interaction among groups of people can be good or bad. Not every Arab who goes out with a Jewish girl is taking advantage of her," said Massalha. "Turning this into a burning issue is wrong. What about all the cases of domestic and sexual violence within the Jewish society?
"These things have all been forgotten. Now they only want to deal with one miserable case that involved Arabs and Jews, but in truth had nothing to do with race and everything to do with alcohol abuse and a failing education system on both sides.
"The Karp case was about bullying, which is a terrible phenomenon in Israeli society. What the city of Petah Tikva is doing is encouraging bullying and taking the law into people's hands and inciting indiscriminate racism that in many ways reminds us of the blood libels aimed at the Jewish people," said Massalha.
"We are trying to deal with a difficult situation. The city has received many complaints from parents and relatives. Even in the case of the girl who was involved in the Karp case, her parents said she had fallen into bad company. People may lash out at us and call it racism, but until you've lived in the situation you don't know what it's like," Hakak said.