(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A new campaign enacted by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is aiming to improve the tense relationship between police and Arab citizens, who make up some 20% of the country’s population.
The campaign, launched on Sunday, will see billboards in a number towns, including Nazareth in the North and Rahat in the South. A parallel radio campaign featuring Israel’s highest ranking Muslim police officer, Asst.-Ch. Jamal Hachrush, is calling on Arab citizens to join the force and support the establishment of police stations in their communities.
“For too long, Israel has allowed gaps to develop between the police services offered to Jewish cities and Arab communities,” Erdan said in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
He added that the campaign was only a “small part” of a five-year, NIS 2 billion plan to increase law enforcement in Arab localities, including the construction of 12 new police stations.
The police have long had a poor relationship with Arab Israelis, who are underrepresented on the force but overrepresented in crime statistics. According to Mossawa, an advocacy group, police have killed 48 Arab Israelis since 2000. Mayors and Knesset members from the sector have faulted police for a lack of law enforcement in their communities, and many contend they are routinely treated as security threats.
Clashes in Umm-al-Hiran
According to data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics in September 2016, 69% of Arab citizens had a negative view of the police.
Erdan told the Post that prior to his tenure as public security minister, the police had no budget for Arabic media and recruitment campaigns.
Tension spiked between the police and Arab citizens in early June after a civilian security guard manning a community policing station in Kafr Kasim opened fire on a group of rioters, killing 20-year-old Muhammad Taha.
Erdan and police also came under withering criticism for labeling Beduin citizen Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean a “terrorist” in January after his car ran over and killed border policeman Erez Levi during preparations for the demolition of illegal structures in the unrecognized Negev town of Umm al-Hiran. An as-yet unpublished Justice Ministry investigation reportedly found that police had mishandled the situation and that Levi’s death had been an accident. Kaeean was shot and killed on the spot.
Nevertheless, said Erdan, police are making slow but steady improvements in relations. In 2017, 8% of police recruits were Muslim, a distinctly higher rate than usual.
Some Arab citizens say that without fundamental changes in policing Arab Israelis, the campaign will not yield results. It was even declared a "mockery" by Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen.
“It would have been more appropriate to invest the campaign budget in operational activities against criminal elements roaming freely in Arab villages,” Jabareen said in a statement.
Erdan accuses the Arab MKs of being “hypocrites” and instead said he is working with mayors to improve law enforcement.
“This is a multi-year plan. This is not a plan that will make a miracle after almost 70 years of neglect,” he told the Post, adding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contributed to the tense relations.
“It’s a process,” he continued. “We need to show them that we are concerned with their regular daily problems.”