Prominent figures are often asked how they would like to be remembered in history. On Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin told a group of 29 Muslim and Christian Arab policewomen that he would like history to record that he had been the first president of Israel to host policewomen from the Arab sector.
As he still has three years to go before concluding his tenure, he said, he hoped that in future annual meetings with Arab policewomen, he would be greeting them in their hundreds instead of in their tens.
In recent years there has been increased interest by both Muslim and Christian Arabs in joining the police force, but never more so than in the last 26 months since Jamal Hakroush of Kafr Kanna was appointed Deputy Police Commissioner, making him the highest ranking Muslim in the Israel Police Force.
Although there were some raised eyebrows at the time, it was noted in senior police circles that Hakroush had the proven ability and experience required for the position.
But it was not only the fact that he was deserving of the role that brought about his promotion.
There had been an ever-growing crime wave in the Arab sector – with constant complaints by heads of Arab local authorities that the police were not doing enough to reduce crime.
This prompted a joint initiative by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh to set up a special administration responsible for opening new police stations throughout the Arab sector and for mounting an ongoing recruitment campaign to bring additional members of the Arab community into the police force.
It was also decided within the context of the campaign to reach out to Arab women.
There was a realization that the campaign would fail unless Arab policemen and women were given the same advancement opportunities as their Jewish colleagues.
SINCE THE launch of the campaign a little over two years ago, 728 Arabs have joined the force.
Of these 74 (10%) are women, and close to 50 (6.7%) are Muslim women.
In introducing the policewomen to Rivlin, Hakroush noted that the Israel Police is the only one in a non-Arab country which permits its female Muslim members to wear a hijab.
All applicants have to pass a test before they are accepted.
All 29 in attendance spoke fluent Hebrew, some without any trace of an Arabic accent. All were high school graduates, and some were also university graduates.
It had been on the initiative of the President’s Office that Rivlin should meet them. He was particularly pleased because less than a month ago, at the Iftar dinner that Rivlin had hosted, Mazen Gnaim, Chairman of the Forum of Arab Mayors and Mayor of Sakhnin, had charged that the police were not doing enough to eradicate crime. He had made similar allegations last year.
The policewomen ranged in age from their mid-twenties to 40. Several were married with children. The 40 year old was Superintendent Dunya Nasser, who is the highest ranking Arab policewoman in Israel.
Two of the other women were Enas Abu Wasel, a senior police investigator in the south of the country, and Basher Hawwari, a Christian Arab from Nazareth who has both a BA and an MA, and who did her national service prior to joining the police, where she hopes to eventually become an officer.
Abu Wasel spent 12 years as a teacher of Beduin youth before she decided to become a policewoman.
As a teacher, she had failed to change the negative perceptions that so many Beduin youth have of the State of Israel and of the police. Now, she quips, the Arabs look on her as a traitor and the Jews think she’s a spy.
RIVLIN PRAISED the women for having the courage to defy the conventions that hindered their progress, and told them that they were pioneers and ground breakers.
However, Abu Wasel noted that while Arab men could engage in just about any profession they wanted, Arab women could not become state employees, which was largely considered to be taboo. Thus there were many objections to women joining the police.
In the face of this, Rivlin was curious as to whether the women wore their uniforms in their towns and villages, and was assured that they do. All of the women present wore uniforms that were obviously freshly laundered in honor of the occasion.
Rivlin told them that because of the choice they had made, children could go safely to school, women could organize their lives independently and with security, and many citizens – especially those who feel alienated – now have a sense that they have someone with an understanding ear that they can talk to about their problems.
He was aware of the challenges which the women, particularly those who are wives and mothers face on a daily basis.
This was all the more reason to applaud their decision, he said, adding that the difficulties had not deterred them from demonstrating what they can do and their right to do it.
Calling Arab society “an inseparable part of Israeli society” Rivlin said that the police is the branch of the state that is responsible for maintaining law and order.
The Israel Police set itself a goal of recruiting women so that they could exercise their full potential within the female ranks of the police, said Alsheikh.
In the prism of police services to the public, he continued, it was important that every citizen should feel that he or she is represented by someone from his or her sector in the police force. This was particularly relevant with regard to the Arab sector, he emphasized.
When a resident of Umm el-Fahm knows that his sibling is a police officer in Rishon Lezion, it somehow rubs off on him.
Alsheikh also pointed out that there are many critical situations in which it is to the citizen’s benefit to have a policewoman rather than a policeman deal with the case.
He implied that this was often the situation in the Arab sector, whose society and traditions were not familiar to non-Arab police.
As Rivlin had done before him, Alsheikh commended the courage of the women in being “pioneers before the camp” and said the police were proud to have them serve in the force.
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