(photo credit: Knesset )
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch held a press conference for reporters from the Arabic media, both domestic and foreign, in Jerusalem on Thursday, in which he outlined programs to strengthen law enforcement and improve police-community relations in the Arab sector.
During the press conference, the first of its kind held by a public security minister, Aharonovitch focused on issues including firearms in the Arab sector, civilian volunteering, and the recruitment and enlistment of Arabs into the police.
Aharonovitch said that while the community and the police have had a contentious relationship in the past, he was optimism about projects launched by his ministry and the Israel Police that he hoped would “strengthen the connection between law enforcement and the Arab public in the State of Israel.”
Reduced crime rates would improve the quality of life and the economic standing of the Arab community, he said. “Economic and social development can only come to places where crime doesn’t run amok.”
Aharonovitch stressed a plan to recruit 400 new minority police officers this year, and that he has created a special task force to advance this goal. He said he supports the use of affirmative action and special preparatory programs to bring the plan to fruition and has pledged funds from his own party, Israel Beiteinu, to further this goal.
He also described his plans to encourage greater Arab involvement in the civil service, saying he sees the entry of hundreds of Arab Israelis into the civil service as one of his ministry’s top goals for this year.
Aharonovitch addressed a major concern in Arab communities – the abundance of guns and ammunition, calling it “a serious and painful subject for all of us.”
“We will take the weapons out of the households and we will not allow this phenomenon to continue. I’m happy that the leaders of the Arab community are working with me on this,” Aharonovitch said.
As for allegations that police don’t adequately respond to shooting incidents in Arab areas, “If there is shooting inside the villages and the police don’t go in, that is a problem,” he said.
He also called on people in the community to stop hiding cases of domestic abuse and in particular the so-called “family honor killings,” saying the time has come to “raise our voices on this issue so that we can work to uproot it.”
A source at the Public Security Ministry said those in attendance responded well to the proposals; and that while the reporters did ask difficult questions, it was nothing out of the ordinary and the environment was by no means hostile.
The source added that ministry officials have received great feedback on their proposals so far, saying that “people have told us that you are the first minister who has taken steps like this in the Arab community,” and that many see it is even more remarkable considering Aharonovitch comes from the right-wing Israel Beiteinu party.
The press conference came a day after a report was presented to the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee showing that violent crime in the Arab sector has risen steadily in recent years, even as it has decreased among the Jewish population. It also found that Arabs are overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of violent crime, making up 60 percent of murder victims although they are 20% of the population.
The report argues that one way to fight the rise in crime is to encourage greater Israeli Arab enlistment in law enforcement agencies, to increase trust in the police as well as the ability of police to patrol the Arab sector.
The report, and the Israel Police, say the number of Arabs serving in the force is far too low, as there are only 382 Arab Muslim police officers out of the 21,242 in Israel. The number represents 1.8% of the police force, which is less than a tenth of the percentage of Arabs in the general population.
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which promotes Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post
that the issue of greater Arab enlistment in the police force is important and vastly misunderstood.
“The Arab public is very willing to serve in the police force, as long
as they see that police view them as citizens first and not as enemies.
If they know that police see them as citizens in need of a service and
not as a security threat, they will enlist in far greater numbers.”
Beeri-Sulitzeanu, whose organization founded the “Arab society-Police
relations” initiative with the Israel Police in 2000, said “police are
doing very important things these days to increase the Arab public’s
faith in the police and these efforts have results.”