A clash between Border Police officers and an Arab worker in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: screenshot)
Based on video footage and eyewitness accounts, the undercover policemen who confronted Maysam Abu al-Kiaan, a Beduin employee of the Super Yuda store in Tel Aviv, appeared to use excessive force.
On Monday, Al-Kiaan stepped outside to throw out the garbage. He was approached by two plainclothes border policemen who were searching for Palestinians who had illegally entered Israel from the West Bank to work.
The police asked al-Kiaan for his identification card. In response, al-Kiaan asked the police to identify themselves.
The police reportedly refused, so did al-Kiaan. (The law requires plainclothes police to identify themselves if asked to.) A melee broke out which left al-Kiaan badly beaten.
Video footage shows several plainclothes policemen beating al-Kiaan.
Incidents in which police allegedly used excessive force against Arab citizens are not isolated.
According to data provided by the Abraham Fund, an NGO devoted to promoting equality and coexistence between Arab and Jewish citizens, there has been a sharp rise in reported cases in which police allegedly used violence against Arab Israelis.
Fifteen cases were reported in 2010, 28 in 2011, 18 in 2012, 17 in 2013, 49 in 2014. In 2015, 55 cases were reported, which represented over 60% of the total number of cases of police violence against Israeli citizens, even though Israel’s Arabs make up just a fifth of the population.
Part of the problem has to do with police ambivalence toward Israel’s Arab population. On one hand, police are expected to provide security and law enforcement services to Arab Israelis as full-fledged citizens who deserve to be treated no differently from Jewish Israelis.
On the other hand, due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the difficulties of integrating a large Arab minority into a state that defines itself as Jewish, police tend to view Israel’s Arabs as a security threat. They are seen as the enemy instead of being treated as citizens with the right to police protection. The unresolved citizenship status of millions of Palestinians further complicates matters. The border policemen at the Super Yuda might have mistaken al-Kiaan for a Palestinian from the West Bank and therefore felt they were not obligated to identify themselves.
Admittedly, other visibly distinguishable groups suffer from discriminatory treatment at the hands of the police. In demonstrations, Ethiopians, haredim and hilltop youths are often exposed to gratuitous police brutality. So are left-wing activists. Some of these groups – particularly Ethiopians and hilltop youths with their distinctively long sidelocks and large crocheted kippot – are detained by police without cause.
However, the tension between police and Israel’s Arab population is still acute, at least since the October 2000 clashes that left 13 Arab Israelis dead. In the last two years there have been at least three incidents in which police killed Arab citizens under questionable circumstances.
On November 9, 2014 Hir Hamdan of Kafr Kana was shot in the back. On April 14, 2015 Ayad Abdallah from Ein Nekuba was killed during a confrontation with police after he left a wedding. And on January 18, 2016 Sami Jawar of Rahat was killed during a raid on drug dealers. He had no connection to the dealers.
Incidents like these and the one at the one Super Yuda in Tel Aviv on Monday harm the already tense relations between the police and Israel’s Arab population. That’s why it is so important that the government follow through with its landmark decision to allocate NIS 2 billion to improving policing services for the Arab public, including the building of 10 new police stations in predominantly Arab towns and the expansion of 10 more.
The appointment of Jamal Hachrush to the rank of assistant-chief of police in April was another important step toward improving relations between police and Israel’s Arabs. It marks the first time an Israeli Muslim holds the second-highest police rank.
But the police force must work harder to improve the attitude of police officers toward Arab citizens. Officers must receive clear guidelines on how to deal with civilians – whether they are Palestinians living on the West Bank or Arab Israelis. A heightened level of professionalism and sense of duty will increase the chances that incidents like the one at the Super Yuda are avoided.