'Israeli police need to change attitude toward Arab society'

"The police still handle violence in the Arab sector according to a security-oriented approach that views every Arab citizen as a potential threat," NGO head says.

A clash between Border Police officers  and an Arab worker in Tel Aviv (photo credit: screenshot)
A clash between Border Police officers and an Arab worker in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: screenshot)
The violence in Arab society in Israel is an atrocious phenomenon that has taken the life of more than 1,000 people since 2000.
In a bid to address and mitigate violence, the government approved in April a plan to open 10 new police stations in the Arab sector and recruit more than 1,300 Arab policemen.
Attempting to understand the root causes of the mounting violence among Israeli Arabs, The Jerusalem Post interviewed  on Tuesday Mr. Reda Jaber, the head of the Aman Center – The Arab Center for a Safe Society.
According to Jaber, the violence in the Arab sector is not only the result of material poverty that presides in many Arab towns, but it also derives from "cultural poverty," i.e. the absence of informal education frameworks, programs for troubled youth, frameworks for the creation of new job opportunities, frameworks for sports, culture and social welfare.
Brushing off what he said was an attempt by political forces among the Israeli leadership to link the turbulent wave of violence in the region to violence and crime in the Arab sector, Jaber said: "The purported link between the political violence in the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict to the violence in Israeli Arab society is a malicious link. This problem has no national or political background.
"It is nothing but a civil and social issue, and must be handled as such an issue that has nothing to do with the national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians," Jaber added.
"Those who attempt to create such a link, mainly government members – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a few right-wing ministers – severely damage the texture of Israeli-Arab relations," Jaber concluded.
Jaber underscored that a real change could only be realized if the police embrace a new attitude toward Israeli Arabs.
"The government's decision to open more police stations in the Arab sector is a positive step and I am glad about it. However, what is really needed is a change in how the police perceive Israeli Arabs," Jaber said.
"The police still handle violence in the Arab sector according to a security-oriented approach that views every Arab citizen as a potential threat. A policeman who implements such a governmental policy is not a good policeman. The police should view Arabs as legitimate civilians, so that policemen will treat Arabs as respectfully as they treat Jews," Jaber added.
"The appointment of Jamal Hakrush as the First Muslim deputy commissioner, the second-highest rank in the police, sends a very important message. However, without a real reform in the police's approach toward Israeli Arabs, the violence problem will not end," he said.
The mission of Aman Center, according to Jaber, is to "push Arab society to take responsibility for its future as if there are no state institutions and to push state institutions to take responsibility for handling the violence in the Arab sector as if there is no Arab society."
"Our goal is to prevent the parties from exchanging mutual accusations aimed at renouncing their responsibilities," Jaber stressed, adding that "there is a real awakening in the society regarding the dire need to address violence.
"We have not yet developed a comprehensive plan, but the prevailing atmosphere encourages people to take responsibility for the problem by acting on the ground and not only by talking," Jaber concluded.
According to Jaber, "Violence and crime in the Arab sector are no longer taking place on the society's sidelines – they have become a normative part of civil life, mainly by infiltrating into local Arab authorities."
Relating to the violence against women in the Arab society, Jaber said: "The number of Arabs, both women and men, who turn to the police is constantly growing. The number of women turning to the police to complain about violence against them is commendable.
"Unfortunately, the police still do not take into account the complex situation of a woman who lives in a conservative Arab society and turns to issue a complaint. It should take measures to defend such women when they turn to it," Jaber said.
Speaking about the recent incident in which police officers allegedly hit an Israeli Arab supermarket worker in Tel Aviv, Jaber stated: "The violence in the Arab sector is part of the violence in Israel. Israeli society is violent and racist. The case of the Arab supermarket worker is not a unique case. In the Aman Center we have reported about a plethora of incidents of violence against Arabs in Jewish cities.
"Sadly, the public reaction of Jews to such incidents was not critical enough and law enforcement forces treat criminals mercifully,” Jaber said.