Israel Police warns it needs hundreds more officers ahead of tense Ramadan

Police have taken a number of measures to compensate for their lack of numbers, including installing sensors and cameras.

 POLICE PATROL outside al-Aqsa Mosque amid clashes in the area this week. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
POLICE PATROL outside al-Aqsa Mosque amid clashes in the area this week.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Israel Police is suffering from a severe manpower shortage which will affect its ability to respond to violence during the month of Ramadan this year, warned police chief Kobi Shabtai at a meeting of the Knesset National Security Committee on Wednesday.

Shabtai noted that the tensions of Ramadan come as the police are also dealing with securing large protests around the country, a rise in terrorist attacks, car accidents and an increase in murders around the country.

"In every incident, they expect us to be in all places even before the incident happens and with the deployment and stretching out [of police forces], we are now facing serious difficulties in providing a response at the standard and criteria that we think the citizens of Israel deserve to receive," said Shabtai, noting that in Jerusalem, for example, the police need another 500 officers.


The chief of police called for a pay raise for police officers and an improvement in working conditions in order to aid in recruiting the needed officers.

Shabtai explained that, in terms of mixed cities, where Jews, Arabs and Christians live together, the police are in a better place than they were in 2021, but are still not where they need to be and they need more equipment and manpower.

 Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai patrol on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, November 25, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai patrol on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, November 25, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The chief of police noted that police are working to expand the "Safe City" project which includes installing sensors and cameras to help police to predict disturbances and start handling them as soon as they start, but that they still need a larger budget in order to purchase and install the needed technology.

Shabtai reiterated that while technology is important, the main issue is manpower. "We don't have enough police in these places. In Guardian of the Walls we were caught naked with the number of police officers we had. Our situation has improved a bit in some of the places, but in order to provide security for the citizens of the State of Israel we need many more officers on the streets."

The police and emergency services are planning to conduct a nationwide exercise next week which will last seven days to check the readiness of the forces throughout the country. The police are also recruiting reserve Border Police companies to reinforce security forces during the month of Ramadan.

Sigal Bar Tzvi, the head of the Policing, Security and Community Division of Israel Police, explained to the committee that police learned from the events that led up to and took place during Operation Guardian of the Walls in 2021 and are "much more prepared, organized, equipped and trained" for this year.

Bar Tzvi lamented, however, that police are still "not at an optimal level of readiness" as Israel Police still need to recruit more officers.

"The deployment of officers is relatively large, but not large enough, meaning that if we are predicting that what is going to happen will be about three times as large as what happened in 2021-this is more or less our estimate-we will have a response for most of the events but not all of them, about 80%," warned Bar Tzvi.

Bar Tzvi additionally noted that the IDF and police are working on preparing companies in the IDF to be available to aid police if needed, but added that the companies are not ready yet and it is unlikely that all of the said companies will be ready by Ramadan.

In terms of Jerusalem, the commander of the Jerusalem District of Israel Police, Doron Turgeman, stressed that, despite the uptick in violence, the police have so far managed to keep the Temple Mount outside the circle of violence.

Both Turgeman and Shabtai pointed out that incitement is one of the main threats that the defense establishment needs to fight at the moment.

"There are a lot of entities who have an interest in spreading incitement and portraying the situation as if Israel is violating the freedom of worship," said Shabtai. "Last year we managed to stop this because we did a live broadcast online from the Mount. When they talk about a situation of large-scale riots on the Mount and you show a photo from within the Mount that shows everyone is coming peacefully, it does the job. The issue of awareness is no less important than the operational tools that we're placing on the table."

"The last three terrorist attacks [involved] children between the ages of 13 and a half and 14 who went out to carry out attacks. [These] were people who were being fed incitement on social media," noted Shabtai. The police chief pointed to the team recently formed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir including members of the police, Shin Bet, IDF and the State Attorney's Office that aims to streamline the fight against incitement.

Israeli prisons are another front where violence could erupt during the month of Ramadan, with the Israel Prison Service preparing for the possibility of widespread hunger strikes, disturbances and attacks on prison service personnel.

"In the past month, we've seen moderate protest measures by the security prisoners concerning their living conditions. We are acting with zero tolerance for disturbances, including emptying divisions and implementing punishments and solitary confinement," said Katy Perry, the head of the Israel Prison Service.

Perry noted that there are 4,700 security prisoners being held in six prisons across Israel, 1,500 more prisoners than what the prisons are meant to hold. The prison service is also suffering from a manpower shortage and needs another 500 wardens.

A representative from the Prime Minister's Office informed the committee that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting last week to prepare for Ramadan with ministers and security and emergency services officials. On Tuesday, the Knesset National Security Committee held a classified meeting concerning the preparations for Ramadan, which included representatives from the IDF and Shin Bet as well.

A representative of the Jerusalem Municipality who was present at the meeting stressed that the socioeconomic situation in east Jerusalem also needs to be considered when dealing with security issues and that the municipality needs more help from the national budget to provide the necessary services to the eastern part of the capital.

The co-director of public affairs at the Abraham Initiatives NGO, Yaacob Ibrahim, warned that an excessive focus on the possibility of an escalation may lead to a "self-fulfilling prophecy," stressing that police must act for the security of Muslim residents as well and ensure the freedom of worship. Ibrahim also warned against incitement from senior officials in the government.

The committee discussion comes as tensions continue to rise in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. 11 Israelis have been murdered in a series of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem in recent weeks.

On Wednesday evening, Israel Police raised their level of alert after 10 Palestinians were killed in armed clashes with Israeli forces in Nablus.

Ben-Gvir announced on Wednesday that an enforcement operation he is calling "Operation Concentrated Effort" has led to four illegal firearms and 11 airsoft guns converted for live fire being seized in the past week.

72 suspects have been arrested in east Jerusalem in 18 operations and two illegal structures have been demolished, according to the minister. Police set up 232 checkpoints in east Jerusalem in the past three days and checked 12,451 citizens and 8,349 vehicles.

"Our governance in the eastern part of the city should be clear to everyone," said Ben-Gvir. "I thank the security forces and the policemen who operate in the field at all times. We need to significantly increase our activity and our war on terror, and for this I am working non-stop, and also for this we must significantly increase the police budget...and add more policemen to restore governance."

After two children and a young man were killed in a terrorist ramming attack near Ramot earlier this month, Ben-Gvir called for the launch of "Operation Defensive Shield 2" in east Jerusalem. The statement drew ridicule and condemnation from former and current defense officials who warned that such an operation would be irrelevant and even damaging in east Jerusalem.

Earlier this week, KAN news reported that the government was planning to close or restrict access for Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount during the last ten days of Ramadan. The mount is usually closed to Jewish visitors during the end of the month of Ramadan in order to lower tensions.

According to the report, Ben-Gvir expressed opposition to such a move, saying that "[former prime minister Naftali] Bennett's government closed the mount for less time than you want to [close it]." The Likud Party has denied the report.