Violent crime in the Arab sector has risen steadily in recent years, even as the rate of crime among the Jewish population has decreased, according to a report presented at a Knesset committee meeting Wednesday.
The report, compiled by the Knesset research center, was presented before a meeting of the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, attended by a number of Arab MKs and top police officials, including Insp.-Gen. David Cohen.
The report found that in 2009 there was an 8.9 percent rise in crime in the Arab sector over 2008, which itself showed a 1.5% rise over 2007, which came on top of a 1.9% increase over 2006. The rise came in spite of an overall 9.8% drop in crime from 2007-2008, and 5.1% from 2007 to 2006.
The report also found 36% of suspects arrested for attempted murder were Arabs, in addition to 36% of aggravated assault arrests, 41% of arsons, 36% of robberies, and 43% of aggravated robberies.
The report lists several reasons for the higher rate of crime in the Arab sector, beginning with the breakdown in the extended family structure, difficulties faced by Arabs in assimilating into Israeli society, tensions between secular and Islamic Arabs, and the significantly lower economic standing of Arabs compared to Jews in Israel.
The meeting was chaired by MK David Azoulay (Shas) who, in his opening remarks, said a solution must be found so that the Arab sector “doesn’t feel that police don’t work as hard to solve murders in the Arab sector as they do when they involve Jews.”
MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) initiated the meeting, which he called “the most important discussion I have ever initiated at the Knesset.”
Zahalka called 2009 “the worst year ever for crime in the Arab sector,” citing figures presented by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch in late 2009 that showed that out of 121 murders in 2009, 71 of the victims (58%) were Arabs, as were 41% of those arrested for murder. Both figures are far out of proportion for a sector that makes up 18% of the population.
Zahalka told the committee meeting that in light of the troubling statistics from 2009, an effort must be made to ensure that 2010 is “the year of the war on crime in the Arab sector.”
While the Arab sector has often had a contentious relationship with the Israel Police, those gathered at the meeting said time and again that they wanted more police presence in Arab communities.
The Arab MKs and community leaders in attendance said they feel police don’t do enough to investigate crimes in their communities and don’t respond with enough urgency to shooting incidents.
A number of those gathered said that a greater police presence and more vigilant police work would help increase residents’ feeling of security and cut down on the high levels of violent crime in the Arab sector.
The prevalence of licensed and unlicensed firearms in the Arab sector was raised, with MK Hanna Sweid (Hadash) saying “in almost every house, in many of the towns and villages, there is an illegal firearm of some sort and the police know this.”
The sentiment was echoed by MK Afo Agbaria (Hadash) who said the problem is the availability of weaponry, saying “I don’t think that the weapons and ammunition, both with and without licenses in Israel in the Arab sector came from outside the borders of Israel. They came only from within Israel.”
Agbaria added that in Arab towns, “it’s easier to get a firearm late at night than a loaf of bread.”
Mayor of the Beduin town of Rahat, Faiz Abu-Sabihan, complained of Beduin soldiers coming home on leave on the weekends with their IDF service weapons, saying on Fridays and Saturdays, “the town can be like a battlefield.”
He also called on police to use a stiffer hand against violent offenders, saying that when there are brawls in Rahat, people are typically arrested and let go after a few days with no charges filed. He added that he had personally filed complaints with police on several occasions, to no avail.
MK Haneen Zoabi for her part, said police were focusing too much on youth drinking over murder and more serious crimes, saying “while the police are focusing on “the city with no violence” project, which is important, they aren’t focusing enough on more serious issues like murder.”
The report argues that one way of fighting the rise in crime is to encourage Israeli Arabs to join the police, to increase both trust in law enforcement and the ability of police to patrol the Arab sector. The report, and the Israel Police, say the number of Arabs serving in the police force is far too low, citing only 382 Arab police officers out of the 21,242 in uniform in Israel – only 1.8% of the police.
Insp.-Gen. Cohen told the meeting that he saw the issue of crime in the Arab sector as being of great importance, saying “there is more violence in the Arab sector than the general population, including murder. The figures speak for themselves and can’t be argued with.”
Cohen said that over the past three years, police have made their main priority battling organized crime, but that the issue of fighting violent crime in the Arab sector is also a priority for the police.
Cohen called on the Arab public to become more personally involved in helping police patrol their communities, saying that cooperation can go a long way to reducing the violence.
He also noted that 500 additional police officers had been deployed in the Arab sector over the past year, and that 1,200 illegal weapons had been confiscated.