Law and Order: Cracking down on Arab sector violence

With armed clashes rife, police and community leaders agree on new measures.

January 20, 2012 17:29
POLICE MOTORCYCLISTS at Lod antiviolence rally.

police antiviolence rally lod parade 311. (photo credit: POLICE MOTORCYCLISTS ride at the front of an antiv)


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Homicide rates in the Arab Israeli community continue to spiral out of control, prompting the Israel Police and the Public Security Ministry to express grave concern this week and to announce the start of a major initiative to stem the violence.

Automatic firearms are within relatively easy reach for Arab crime organizations, as are explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and even mortar shells.

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Criminal elements in the Arab community are fighting territorial wars with one another for control of several lucrative markets, including narcotics, protection rackets and stolen vehicles. They have access to staggering quantities of weapons.

Even non-criminally-affiliated Arab households are often armed these days, according to police, as the guns have become a status symbol.

Last weekend, a feud between two Beduin families in Rahat erupted into a gun fight, claiming the life of a young man and leaving a teenager hospitalized. Police suspect that the conflict between the families had been going on for several months that it may have begun over a minor fight between teenagers. An escalating titfor- tat conflict reached new heights when police received reports of shots fired in the Negev city’s Neighborhood 12 over the weekend. The incident exemplified how a minor confrontation can quickly escalate into a gun fight.

Although the Arab community makes up 20 percent of Israel’s population, Arab suspects are involved in 67% of all homicides, 70% of attempted homicides and 52% of arsons, according to Public Security Ministry figures. Nearly all of homicide victims are Arabs as well.

Fearing anarchy, the situation has led many members of the Arab community to demand that the Israel Police dramatically increase their presence in Arab areas, and the police appear to be heeding the call.

Acting on the orders of Public Security Minister Yitzhak Ahronovitch, police have in recent weeks created three new police units to provide assistance to beleaguered police stations serving Arab areas.

One unit was established for the Ayarot station for the Beduin community of the Negev, a second for the Tira and Taibe region in the Sharon district of central Israel and a third unit was set up for Nazareth and Ilut in the North. Each new unit is made up of 110 officers.

“They’re there to assist stations that are experiencing problems,” a Public Security Ministry source told The Jerusalem Post this week.

During the course of this year, police will set up a further five such units, made up of 60 officers each, for Arab areas, covering places like Wadi Ara and Shfaram.

In 2013, units will be created for Lod, Rahat, east Jerusalem and Jaffa.

For attorney Reda Jaber, coordinator of Arab Society – Police Relations Initiative on behalf of the Jerusalembased Abraham Fund, the new police presence couldn’t come fast enough.

“I welcome all police activity when it comes to serving the Arab community and I welcome the deployment of police in this sector,” he said. “To be honest, police are beginning to wake up.”

“Police must create security for every person. These are very basic requirements and they are also the guarantee for public safety,” Jaber said. He added that the most important thing was for police to be present in significant numbers in Arab communities.

“That’s what’s needed to create a deterrent at all times. Not [pinpoint] operations,” he added, referring to arms raids in which police forces enter and leave an Arab town or village in the space of a couple of hours.

Police have also increasingly employed traditional Arab mediation channels to help resolve feuds between warring clans and families. “The attempt to prevent revenge attacks is good too,” Jaber said.

But, he noted, the clear majority of homicides are caused by organized crime, and the “shattering of these crime organizations” would improve personal safety levels “immediately and massively.”

Arab society and its leaders are also responsible for tackling mentalities that accept violence as a legitimate recourse, he said.

Yet, he warned, without state investment in the Arab community, such efforts would be limited.

Community policing is also a key part of the puzzle according to Jaber. “This will allow police to become a legitimate part of the Arab community, enabling effective policing.”

The police’s attempt to recruit more Arab officers is commendable, Jaber said, but not a necessary requirement for immediate action.

Alongside traditional law enforcement measures, the Public Security Ministry is planning to expand its City Without Violence program, which has reduced levels of crime and youth violence in Arab areas, to 12 new Arab communities.

Currently, the program runs in 28 Arab and mixed Jewish-Arab cities, towns and regional councils.

The program leaves the job of tackling organized crime to the police, focusing instead on youth crime, street violence and anti-violence education.

“We’re working so that youths today don’t join the underworld tomorrow,” a second.source from the Public Security Ministry explained.

Under the program, closed-circuit television cameras are installed in crime hotspots and linked up to municipal control centers. “We don’t think cameras will solve the problem, but they help,” the source said.

The initiative also brings together officials from the fields of social welfare, education and extracurricular activities in order to identify high-risk youths likely to fall into a life of crime. Together, the authorities try to divert the youths’ paths away from crime.

“We are adapting our model to the Arab sector,” the source said. The Arab city of Tamra in the Galilee will be the first place where a program tailored to the needs of the community will be tested.

“Tamra’s municipality told us in the clearest way they need help to stamp out the culture of revenge. At the moment, if two kids from two families get into a fight, they could drag their whole families into a feud,” the source explained. “We’re developing a model with Tamra to deal with that.”

Never before have Arab Israelis, police and domestic security officials all agreed on the solutions to severe crime.

Now only time will tell if this new consensus can actually reduce deadly violence.

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