Law & Order: Soft power policing

An interview with southern police district's Arab Affairs officer reveals how close connections with an Arab community can prevent strife.

Police and Arabs 311 (photo credit: Israel Police)
Police and Arabs 311
(photo credit: Israel Police)
This week, as observers and authorities spoke of the possibility of violent disturbances following the expected United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state, police commissioner Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino sent a peaceful message promoting non-violence to all those who plan to hold demonstrations.
Addressing Israeli Arabs and Palestinians under his jurisdiction, Danino said, “I will order police to act with the demonstrators in the same way they acted with housing protesters – with patience and sensitivity, while encouraging dialogue to prevent deterioration.”
At the same time, he stressed, “any violation of the law or public order, or any sign of violence, will be dealt with by us immediately and without compromise.”
Before becoming commissioner, Danino was head of the southern police district, where he had spearheaded offers of dialogue and police cooperation with the Arab community in exchange for orderly conduct.
Danino’s message this week is based on the same formula that he used to help maintain close relations between the police’s southern district and the 200,000- strong Beduin community who live in the South, and which succeeded in preventing mass rioting even during times of heightened tensions between the Beduin and the state.
It is therefore worth examining how the southern police district builds and nourishes its relationship with Beduin Israelis.
In mid-August, the current southern police district head, Cmdr. Yossi Prienti, invited dozens of Beduin leaders for an evening meal to break the Ramadan fast at police headquarters in Beersheba.
The invitation was accepted by a large number of attendees, including Beduin heads of regional councils, sheikhs and other notables.
A central figure in the event was the southern district’s Arab affairs adviser, Ch.-Supt. Shalom Ben Salomon, a fluent Arabic speaker, who has been instrumental in forging the unique relationship between police and the Beduin community.
“Every police district has an Arab Affairs Adviser.
The position was created by a police commissioner in 1994,” Ben Salomon told The Jerusalem Post this week. “It’s a very challenging and interesting role. There is always something new. That’s why I’ve been here for ten years. The more connections you make, the closer the cooperation becomes. With time, one learns to build better and better bridges.”
“In many ways, I am a two-way communication channel. I’m the southern district chief’s guy inside the Beduin community and I pass messages from him to them. I also pass messages from the Beduin leadership to the police and to other state authorities, acting as a pipeline that connects the Beduin leadership to the state,” Ben-Salomon added. “This allows us to straighten out many issues.” Ben-Salomon maintains daily contact with official Beduin leaders, from members of Knesset to regional council heads, as well as unofficial yet nonetheless influential leaders, including heads of tribes, sheikhs, and even representatives of the Islamic Movement’s southern branch.
“We speak every day, during good and bad times,” Ben-Salomon said.
“This daily dialogue prevents conflicts and solves problems. All of these communications build up over the years and have a positive influence,” he continued. “There’s no doubt that my connection to them, as well as the connection maintained by my counterpart in the Negev sub-district, contributes significantly to the area. I am available to them 24 hours a day. There’s no such thing as not taking calls,” Ben-Salomon said.
“Most of the demonstrations [held by the Beduin] are legitimate and are held after official requests are presented.
We permit these legal demonstrations and guard them,” he added.
Every two to three months, the southern district holds a large meeting with Beduin leaders as part of a special forum, in which problems are openly raised and solutions offered.
Police have even become accustomed to employing traditional Beduin mediation channels – a founding stone of Beduin conflict resolution – to help solve clashes between tribes and clans. This is aimed at preventing a dispute between tribes and clans from turning a long and deadly feud.
“Since we are accepted in the community, sheikhs and notables turn to us to help solve conflicts,” Ben- Salomon said. He stressed, however, that the mediation talks were not a substitute for the arrest of anyone who was suspected of violence. “The message we send is that when we arrest criminals, we are serving the majority of the Beduin community,” he said. “It’s very important to stress the clear line between helping to solve problems and arresting suspected criminals. If Beduin individuals become involved in a conflict, they can involve entire tribes. Hence, we aim for quick resolutions.”
One of the most sensitive issues involving the Beduin community revolves around the demolition of illegally built homes. Here too, Ben-Salomon said police can act as a bridge to minimize the risks of confrontations.
“We try to soften the difficult blow of demolitions for them. We try to give them the full range of legal options. We get them as much information as possible and make sure they get to court.
If there are humanitarian issues we can assist with, we go to the district chief to seek approval for that,” he said.
In the coming months, the southern police district plans to significantly increase its presence inside Beduin towns and villages.
“We’re going to double the [staff of the] Ayarot police station and create 108 positions there. That’s a dramatic increase. The same number of positions will be set up in the Rahat and Revivim stations. This increases our ability to serve the Beduin community,” Ben-Salomon said.