Jerusalem tries out ‘broken windows’ policing

The new policy won’t solve all the city’s problems, but if maintained, it might reduce the violence.

Palestinians react to tear gas fired at rioters in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians react to tear gas fired at rioters in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amid all the bad news from Jerusalem last week, one report offered a glimmer of hope: According to Haaretz, police have begun enforcing the law against misdemeanors like urinating in public or littering the streets with sunflower-seed shells in Arab neighborhoods of the city. Unsurprisingly, some people are crying “racist harassment.” But this tactic draws on a theory of policing that has been spectacularly successful elsewhere.
The “broken windows” theory holds that when minor offenses are allowed to proliferate, respect for the law breaks down, thereby encouraging more serious crime. When then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani famously tested it in New York two decades ago, crimes rates plummeted a whopping 39 percent in three years.
Could a crackdown on petty crime bring similar benefits to Jerusalem, which has many problems New York doesn’t face? Quite possibly yes – because one major cause of the city’s violence is the fact that police have long treated Arab neighborhoods as no-go areas for almost anything short of a murder probe. And when the police aren’t present, there’s nobody to stop the thugs from taking over.
Nothing better illustrates this dynamic than the Shuafat refugee camp. Last week, security officials fingered this neighborhood as the source of many of the recent terror attacks in Jerusalem. And what makes Shuafat an ideal terrorist staging ground is that it’s effectively no man’s land. Being inside Jerusalem’s municipal borders, the army doesn’t operate there. But being outside the security fence, police don’t operate there either. The result, as Nadav Shragai reported in Israel Hayom in September, is that “armed gangs wielding handguns, AK-47 semi-automatic rifles, and M-16 rifles roam the streets.”
A “broken windows” policy, in contrast, requires police to be present in force. They can’t fine people for spitting sunflower seeds or urinating in public without being around to see them do it. And once police are present, it becomes much harder for armed gangs and terrorists to operate freely.
Moreover, according to that same Haaretz report, the new policing policy has been accompanied by stepped-up civil enforcement against suspected criminals. Granted, it would be better if government agencies simply enforced the law year-round against everyone. But since they don’t and never have, it makes sense to prioritize enforcement against people suspected of violence, as this bolsters deterrence. 
For instance, Haaretz reported, the families of several Jerusalem residents suspected or convicted of involvement in terror recently had property confiscated to cover outstanding debts to the National Insurance Institute. Similarly, police have started giving the names of suspected stone-throwers to the Jerusalem municipality so it can check and see if their families have open files for building violations or unpaid taxes. This might well be even more of a deterrent than prosecution, since stone throwers, for instance, rarely face serious criminal penalties.
Granted, the new policies risk generating resentment. But if they enable police to significantly reduce the violence, Jerusalem’s Arab residents will be the prime beneficiaries, because they’re the ones who suffer most when daily battles with police take over their neighborhoods: People get hurt in the cross-fire; police roadblocks disrupt traffic; noisy riots prevent sleep; businesses suffer from lack of customers; infrastructure repairs are delayed; and so forth. That’s why postings on Palestinian social media, as social media analyst Orit Perlov wrote last week, show that “Most of the Palestinian public has no interest in violence, and calls are being heard to restrain the young people who are harming the entire population’s quality of life.”
Broken-windows policing does face one major challenge in Jerusalem that didn’t exist in New York: the presence of two influential parties – Hamas in Gaza and the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – with a major interest in inflaming tensions. 
A fascinating study by the Molad think tank found that over the past 15 years, there has been an inverse relationship between terror in Jerusalem and terror in the West Bank: When the West Bank is aflame, Jerusalem gets quieter; when Jerusalem is aflame, the West Bank gets quieter. Being doctrinaire leftists, the Molad researchers ignored the obvious explanation, but the past few weeks have been a textbook example of it: When Palestinian organizations are fighting Israel on their own turf, they can’t spare resources for Jerusalem. But when they want to fight Israel without embroiling their own turf, they target Jerusalem.
Thus PA President Mahmoud Abbas has worked hard recently to suppress violence in the West Bank (albeit with imperfect success, as Monday's attack shows), fearing that an eruption there would threaten his own rule. But at the same time, he has vociferously incited to violence in Jerusalem. Last month, for instance, he accused Jews of “desecrating” the Temple Mount and said they must be prevented from ascending it “in any way,” adding, “We must confront them and defend our holy sites.” Similarly, he implicitly praised last month’s attempted murder of Rabbi Yehuda Glick in Jerusalem, saying the would-be killer “will go to heaven as a martyr.”
As for Hamas, it fought a 50-day war with Israel this summer and isn’t interested in another. Yet it desperately needs to distract Gaza residents from a grim reality in which the promised reconstruction has stalled, Egypt has closed its border and talks on a long-term cease-fire have been suspended. So instead, it’s inflaming Jerusalem. As Shragai reported last month, the northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement, a Hamas affiliate, is paying hundreds of Hamas and Farah members to stay on the Temple Mount and provoke trouble if Jews visit. In addition, most of the city’s recent terror attacks have reportedly been perpetrated by people affiliated with Hamas, which has actively encouraged both the terror and the rioting.
The obvious conclusion is that Israel could facilitate the task of ending the violence in Jerusalem by making it clear to both Hamas and Fatah that continued efforts to inflame the city will have consequences in Gaza and the West Bank.
But whether or not this ever happens, there’s no way to end the violence without the police reclaiming Arab neighborhoods from control of the thugs. Thus even if it’s not a complete solution, a broken-windows policing policy is an excellent place to start.
Evelyn Gordon is a journalist and commentator. Follow her on twitter here.