The Israel Police on Wednesday promoted commander Jamal Hachrush to the rank of assistant-chief, making him the first Muslim to hold the second-highest rank in the agency.
Hachrush, until now the deputy commander of the Coastal District, will be in charge of a special police branch to be set up in the near future that will focus primarily on the problems facing Israel’s crime-ridden Arab communities.
The branch is part of a wider multi-year plan that police say will include the opening of 10 new police stations in the Arab sector and the recruitment of more than 1,300 Arab officers.
Hachrush is a native of the village of Kafr Kana and prior to serving as deputy head of the Coastal District he was deputy head of the Traffic Police.
Expectations that Hachrush would be promoted were first reported in February, just days after Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich told a Knesset committee meeting that the level of crime in the Arab sector is unacceptable and the cause of great suffering for average citizens.
He also quoted figures that highlighted the disproportionately high crime create among Arab Israelis, who account for about 21 percent of the population but 59% of murders and 32% of property crimes.
On Sunday, the cabinet unanimously approved a multi-billion shekel program to increase enforcement across the country, with an emphasis on the Arab sector. In addition to new police stations, the plan calls for the addition of 2,600 new officers to the current force of more than 28,000.
For years, crime has been one of the main problems facing the Arab community where drugs, family feuds, organized crime and large amounts of illegal firearms help fuel the troubling violent crime rate.
The issue has seldom been a national priority for Israelis since most of the victims and perpetrators are from within the Arab sector.
Arab Israelis cite what they say is a lack of concern or manpower on the part of police, while officers often complain about a code of silence in Arab communities that makes it difficult to investigate crimes.
The issue was brought to the front pages in Israel on January 1, however, due to the deadly shooting attack carried out by an Israeli Arab in Tel Aviv, which sparked a debate about illegal firearms in the Arab sector, even though in that case the shooter used a firearm that had been licensed to his father, a former police volunteer.
“For years, the heads of Arab communities have expressed their desire for policing and enforcement just like there is elsewhere in Israel,” Alsheich said at the promotion ceremony at Tel Aviv District Headquarters on Wednesday,adding that he sees the issue as one of the central priorities during his time as head of the agency.
The amount of faith the Arab public puts in the police “is dependent on our ability to give them quality service,” he said, adding that increasing recruitment and promotion of Arab officers “will give police the necessary strategic means and understanding and sympathy to move forward together with the [Arab] community and not to, God forbid, lose them along the way.”
Crime in the Arab sector, Alsheich said, is often overlooked because the victims are from within the community, adding that what is often just a nuisance for Jewish Israelis is, for Arabs, often a matter of life and death.
“When Jewish neighbors complain about shooting in the Arab village next door, for them it’s an issue of disturbing the peace. For the Arab neighbors, that gunfire is a threat to their lives.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan highlighted the importance of better policing in the Arab sector, which he said was stressed in the findings of the government commission into the “October 2000 events,” during which 13 Israeli Arabs were killed in rioting and clashes with police at the start of the second intifada.
He said Hachrush’s promotion and the efforts to improve policing in Arab communities are part of Israel’s ongoing efforts “to ensure social equality to all citizens.”
On Wednesday, MK Dr.
Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List said that while he and his party welcome efforts to fight crime in the Arab sector, “In our experience, the police tend to regard the Arab public as the enemy. In order to ensure that the decision benefits the Arab public, it is important that the police adopt a new policy and attitude toward the Arab community.”
The Abraham Fund Initiatives, an NGO that works toward fostering cooperation between Jews and Arabs and has worked extensively with the Israel Police in recent years, called Hachrush’s promotion a “historic and important step,” saying it “has the potential of improving police services to Arab society and in turn increasing trust in the police.”
The NGO added that the promotion and that of other Arab public servants recently “demonstrates that Arab citizens can remain loyal to their community, advocating for its needs and also reach meaningful decision-making positions.”
It went on to say that, while on the one hand opening a special police branch to deal specifically with Arab communities “lies in direct contradiction to the basic ethos of impartial ‘colorblind’ policing,” it could help close gaps in policing between Jewish and Arab communities.