Tensions between African migrants and local Israelis, policing mass protests and
fighting the kiosk drug trade are only a few of the issues incoming Tel Aviv
District Police chief Bentzi Sau will face, as he leaves his previous post at
the Central District on Monday.
He will be replacing Commander Aharon
Aksel, who will take over as the head of the police operations
Sau said there is a lot of new ground to learn but that one of
the major focuses of local police should be on the conflict between migrants and
Israeli residents in south Tel Aviv and that it has the potential for serious
violence to erupt.
“This is something that very much bothers me. First
off it effects the level of crime... There is a very serious tension there and
if a certain incident happens, it could ignite and lead to somewhere very
Sau added that “this is a problem that all levels of the
system need to deal with,” and that police, the state and government in
combination with legislation, policies and international law is the only way to
make a difference.
Sau made his comments during an interview on his final
day in his office at the Central District headquarters in Ramle where, other
than two big cardboard boxes in the corner, it was hard to tell that the man who
had captained the district for the past three years was about to be reassigned
to Tel Aviv.
The migrant issue is one of a number that face Tel Aviv to a
much greater extent than the Central District, where only a few thousand
migrants reside compared to the tens of thousands that live in a high
concentration, mainly populating the Tel Aviv’s southern
Another difference will be the protests, both approved and
illegal, which are a fact of life in the city. During the 2011 summer protests
and following a series of protests in early 2012, police were heavily criticized
for using what many said was excessive force.
When asked what he would
have done differently, Sau gave a diplomatic answer, saying because he wasn’t
there he couldn’t know what actually happened.
“I know what our
guidelines are and they’re very clear – we are police in a democratic system and
one of the basic rights is the freedom of expression and protest... The police
allow this, but we must beware not to cross the thin line between democracy and
anarchy. This requires the responsibility not only of police but also of
In regards to recent police efforts against kiosks from
selling synthetic cannabinoids and cheap amphetamines, Sau said that he had
heard about the phenomenon mainly from the media. He said it’s another issue
he’ll have to study, but that like the migrants issue, it’s one which requires
the government and the courts to take part, not only police.
District may not be the largest police district by size, but it covers a vast
1,258 square mile area. From the Alexander River in the north to Bnei Re’em
junction in the south, and from the Green Line on the Eastern border to the sea
shore of the Sharon and the Rishon Lezion area. The district is home to around
1.6 million residents living in 230 towns and 45 local authorities, including a
number of towns like Lod, Netanya, and the Arab towns of the “Triangle” like
Taiba and Tira, that have traditionally been synonymous with
Comparably, the Tel Aviv District is Israel’s smallest by area by
size, but the most densely-populated, with some 1.2 million
Sitting in his office on Monday, Sau spoke about a number of
major cases in the district under his tenure including the arrest last December
of over a dozen members of the Abdel-Kader crime family, who for years had
dominated the underworld in Taiba and beyond.
He referenced the ongoing
police campaign against firearms in the district, especially in the Arab
neighborhoods of Lod, Ramle, and the Triangle and cited the success of the hunt
for and arrest of the serial bank robber “Motorcycle Bandit 2.”
54-year-old Sau served as an officer in the Border Police form 1977 to 2006,
before joining the operations branch of the Public Security Ministry.
May 2010 he was appointed the head of the Central District, where he remained
until Monday morning.
Sau’s time in the force hasn’t been without
controversy. From 1996 to 2001 he was the divisional brigade commander for the
northern command of the Border Police, including during the October 2000 riots,
when 13 Israeli Arabs were killed by security forces during protests at the
beginning of the Second Intifada.
In 2003, the Orr Commission, founded to
examine the conduct of Israeli security forces during the riots, determined that
Sau went against police guidelines, when he sent his officers inside Umm al-Fahm
to battle rioters. The commission also determined that while he did not give the
unjustified order to use sniper fire against rioters, he was responsible for the
shootings as commander of the Border Police in Wadi Ara on the first two days of
In June 2006, Sau was appointed to head the operational branch
of the Public Security Ministry, but following a petition by the Israeli Arab
rights organization Adallah, the high court determined that his promotion would
violate the Orr Commission’s ruling that he not be promoted for four
Sau was then made the assistant to the head of the policing and
security branch of the ministry, and later the head of the ministry’s operations
branch, before being appointed head of the Central District in May
When looking back at the past three years in the Central District,
Sau boasts about what he calls “a change in the trends in Lod, in Taiba [and] in
Netanya,” adding that there has been a drop-off in organized and violent crimes.
He cites police figures saying that while over the past 10 years the district
has averaged 40 murders per year, in 2012 the number was 31 and so far in 2013,
there have been only 12.
He said the number is still too high and that
new problem areas have sprouted up. These include Rehovot, Rishon Lezion, and
Petah Tikva, where crime gangs have been at war for the past few years, but that
police tactics and policies have borne fruit in the district.
oversaw the implementation of a program in the district to identify women at
risk of being murdered or harmed by relatives or spouses. It was launched three
years ago and increases the extent to which police are involved before a crime
is committed. Police credit the program for the fact that in 2012 there was not
a single “honor killing” in the district, even though such killings had plagued
towns like Ramle and Lod in years past.
Along the way, ongoing police
efforts to fight illegal gun ownership and reach out to the Arab community have
played a role in reducing the bloodshed in the district, Sau added.
can’t say that everything that succeeded here can be projected onto Tel Aviv,
but we know that community outreach, fighting illegal firearms, and the
cooperation of everyday citizens bring results.”