Tough task for police station in violent Arab town

“I want the police to provide security so that we can move around in peace and sleep soundly."

Jisr e-Zarka (photo credit: TAMAR DRESSLER)
Jisr e-Zarka
(photo credit: TAMAR DRESSLER)
A new police station will open Tuesday in Jisr al-Zarqa, a crowded, impoverished and crime-ridden Arab town next to Caesarea, as part of a bolstering of the police presence in the Arab sector.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan will inaugurate the new station here and another one in Kafr Cana, near Nazareth. But amid all of the fanfare, local leaders in Jisr will be wondering whether the gleaming new building will also bring an end to what residents describe as years of police neglect as they suffered from spiraling violent crime and gang warfare that has turned their daily life into a nightmare.
“The police have been negligent in everything concerning Jisr and I hope that now they will change their strategy. I need an active police that will take on the gangs,” said local council head Morad Amash. Until now, Jisr residents came under the jurisdiction of the Zichron Yaakov station, a seven minute drive away.
More than 50% of Jisr’s residents are below the poverty line, and the town has the lowest matriculation rate in the country at just 25%. Four gangs, with members ranging in age from 14-35, have about forty members each, Amash said. He added that they traffic in drugs, alcohol and weaponry. “Their egos cause them to equip themselves with new weapons all the time; they feel they have to upgrade. Weapons are easily available.”
Amash and Rasool Saada, director of the Safe Communities Initiative for the Abraham Fund Initiatives (TAFI), both say that police would invariably arrive at the scene only after gang battles had ended and evidence had been removed. Three people have been murdered in Jisr this year and twenty-five others have been shot in their legs by gang members over the last three years, according to Amash. In September, Mohammed Zait, who had testified in a murder trial in 2015, was murdered after previous failed attempts on his life, in what residents saw as a reprisal that pointed up the failure of police to protect him. Six months ago two children playing in the street were shot and turned into cripples as they were caught up in gang violence, Amash said.
The police have hardly cracked any of the cases of gang violence, he said. “If the police treat Jisr residents like they [treat residents of] Or Akiva and Zichron [Yaakov], things would have changed here a long time ago. There is a low level of violence in those towns because the police are active and interested in a high level of personal security. But here they haven’t been,” he explained.
A police officer who asked for anonymity said: “Our central goal is to give services to the normative population, which is the majority. Most people here are not violent or criminal. We have to come down with a heavy hand on the criminals who are terrorizing the normative people and this is our goal.”
Haim Poniemunski, police spokesman for the coastal district, said the station was being opened “to strengthen our services and be accessible all the time, to deal with criminal offenses and strengthen our relations with the community.”
He denied that the police have neglected Jisr. “In the past we also dealt with every incident in Jisr. Now availability will be greater. We are doing everything so that the feeling of security of the residents will increase.” Poniemunski said that due to the limited staff of the Zichron Yaakov station, police sometimes could not respond immediately to calls from Jisr since they were in the middle of operations in Zichron. Now that problem would be solved, he said.
The spokesman also said that a gag order has been placed on the Zait murder case.
Residents told The Jerusalem Post that people in Jisr are afraid to report the violence to police out of fear that they and their families could be targeted. “I want the police to provide security so that we can move around in peace and sleep soundly,” an air-conditioning technician, who asked for anonymity, said. He described how he recently checked the air conditioner in the community center, only to find four bullet holes in it, something he attributed to shooting by youths. While the technician voiced hope that the new station would help, another resident seated on a plastic chair in a café on Omar Ibn al-Khitab Street, the town’s drab main thoroughfare, said that if police were going to take on violent crime, they would have done so already. Another resident complained that police give tickets for riding a scooter without a helmet while doing nothing against the gangs.
Sami al-Ali, an opposition member of the local council, said: “Buildings and budgets alone cannot treat violence and crime. The policies today are hostile and racist against the residents of Jisr and in general.”
Eighty-eight percent of Jisr residents support the establishment of the police station, according to a TAFI survey taken in May and June. But 83% of the 244 respondents said they distrust the police.
“The experience of Arab citizens as a whole and certainly the residents of Jisr is that when a policeman stops them, he doesn’t treat them as a citizen but rather as a security threat or potential criminal,” Saada says. “The view of the Arab citizen is not that this is our police that offer policing like in Jewish society but rather that they are an enemy, because police are present at home demolitions, make arrests at demonstrations and employ violence at criminal incidents. “There is no experience of civil policing,” he said. “But because of the violence and crime people understand they need police.”
TAFI is in the process of establishing a civic advisory committee in Jisr that will bring together the mayor and local leaders with police to “build trust and discuss issues of interest to both sides,” Saada said.
He is optimistic the new station will make a difference and notes that since May, when police began boosting their activity in Jisr, 25 weapons have been confiscated. “In the past, Jisr was just a small and neglected part of the Zichron station,” Saada said. “Now an entire station will deal only with Jisr. They won’t be able to ignore gangs, violence, shooting and drugs. They will have to deal with it.”