Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi on Tuesday slammed the Israel Police plan to open more police stations in Arab areas and recruit more Arab officers, saying the Arab public has lost confidence in the police to stop the ongoing crime in the sector.
Zoabi told The Jerusalem Post a consensus is starting to form within Arab society that the crime problem is not being treated by opening more police stations or increasing resources, but rather is “a matter of disparaging treatment at best, and hostility at worst, toward Arab society.”
Zoabi claimed the police are aware of criminal circles in the Arab sector, but “make a decision to leave them alone.”
She demanded that the police initiate a drive to immediately collect all weapons in the Arab sector.
There needs to be “a declaration of war against crime,” she said.
“We have lost confidence in the police, and it is up to the police to prove otherwise in order to restore confidence,” she added.
The Israel Police last month 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, who had previously served as deputy commander of the Coastal District, will be in charge of a special police branch that will be set up to 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 additional police stations in the Arab sector, and involve the recruitment of more than 1,300 Arab officers.
The problem with the police approach, Zoabi said, is that they view Arabs as a security threat and burden.
“The police do not provide security and they persecute by making political arrests,” she said, arguing that from the police perspective, Arabon- Arab crime is tolerable as long as it doesn’t threaten the Jewish public, while the police hide behind terms such as “honor killing,” “family feud” and “culture.”
Arab crime is no different than Jewish crime and should be treated no differently, she asserted, suggesting that, perhaps, Arab leadership should boycott the police.
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund, an NGO dedicated to promoting equality and coexistence between Arab and Jewish citizens, which has been working to promote equitable policing for Arab citizens since October 2003 told the Post the idea of setting up a separate policing administration for the Arab community raises concern.
“The notion contradicts the basic ethos of policing, which is to treat all citizens equally,” he said.
Beeri-Sulitzeanu does, however, see a positive side to the government plan.
“The government and police have offered poor policing services to the Arab sector for decades, so maybe the new department will increase investment to narrow gaps quickly,” he said, but added that much depends on the attitude of the police toward the Arab community.
“A major challenge of the police is that when it comes to Arab citizens, it has to provide service to a community that perceives it as a security force and, therefore, is reluctant to trust and cooperate with it.”
He called Hachrush’s nomination positive, and expressed hope that it will help the police to better serve the Arab population.
“Arab society recognizes the need for effective policing, but the police need to win over the trust of the Arab citizens, which can be achieved if the police attend to the needs of the Arab community,” he said, suggesting that it focus on the growing violence and prevalence of illegal weapons.
The police must have greater accountability, transparency and communication with the Arab community, he said.
On a conference call last month with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli-Arab Issues, a coalition of North American Jewish organizations, Haim Sargarof, police commander of the Kedma Station in the southern triangle Arab area, said the number of officers in his station has jumped to 320 from 100.
Police in the area also hold open houses with the residents of Arab towns, which sometimes includes mayors, he said, adding that he personally meets monthly with each of the seven Arab mayors in his region.
Sargarof said these types of activities are held throughout the country, while surveys of the local community are carried out so the police can better serve the public.
The Israel Police did not respond to requests for comment by press time.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.