Cautious optimism for new police station in Tira

Arab-Israeli city plagued by gun-toting, criminal youths.

Aharaonovitch at inauguration of Tira police station 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Aharaonovitch at inauguration of Tira police station 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
A little over a week after a Tira teenager pulled an Uzi sub-machine gun on police and was shot dead by the officers, Israel Police opened a new police station in the central city, only meters away from the site of its latest killing.
The Arab-Israeli city has found itself struggling with a plague of violence and a younger generation that locals say have too little respect, and too easy access to guns.
On Tuesday the chief rabbi of the Israel Police’s Central District stood with Mayor of Tira Mamoun Abd al-Hay, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Central District Cmdr. Bentzi Sau and affixed a mezuza to the door of the station.
Police and locals hope the permanent police presence will do something to fight the scourge of gun violence that has spun out of control in the past few years.
The station began operations a few months ago, and has made its home in a building that once housed a local hospital serving Tira, today a city of 22,000.
Police stations in the Arab sector are typically located outside city centers or in nearby Jewish towns, because of the often loaded relations between police and residents.  The Tira station on the other hand, is only a few meters away from the its city hall, a location chosen deliberately in order to increase the police presence in the city, officers said.
The mayor said Tuesday that he met opposition from residents and even members of the local municipality when he began to push for the station in town, but said he was not swayed, firm in the belief that the city’s worsening crime rate must be dealt with.
“In the past three years there have been 22 murders in Tira. We have a serious problem with illegal weapons, property crimes, and a lack of a feeling of safety for local residents,” al-Hay said.
The mayor added that as an initial step, police must establish a greater presence in the city, which for years was under the jurisdiction of officers from the under-manned station in Taibe, also a high crime city.
By the time police would arrive, al-Hay said, it was typically too late.
“People are skeptical and so am I. The proof will be in the results, we can only wait and see if this makes a difference,” he added.
In his remarks to the crowd later on, the mayor called on locals to cooperate with police and “help those among us who have chosen the wrong path, the path of violence and crime. We must do this for the sake of our children, so that Tira can be like Kfar Saba or Kochav Yair.”
Part of the problem in policing towns like Tira, according to police, is insufficient cooperation from local residents, who are often cowed by a culture of suspicion towards police and a pervasive fear that makes them highly reluctant to come forward and report crimes.
In addition, police have a shortage of local, Muslim Arab officers.
“There’s only one Arab from Tira in the police here, and he works at the dispatch center.
No one sees him, no one in Tira knows he works there, I don’t think,” said Amar Ali, a young Druse officer from Issawiya, who serves in the Tira municipality’s force, a unit that works with the city in policing quality of life issues.
Ch.-Insp. Ilan Biran, the new station’s commander, said the recent police deployment is meant to fight the plague of firearms crimes in Tira, and to serve as a local feature of the community that “can grow with the city.”
Biran said the Tira unit presently comprises 49 officers (among them four Arabic speakers) armed with M16s and service pistols, including detectives and members of the YASSAM special patrol unit.
“One of the main conclusions after the events of October 2000 [when 13 Israeli Arabs were shot dead by security forces during riots at the beginning of the second intifada] is to improve the relations between the Arab sector and police, and to improve the service that we provide to them.
This is part of that mission,” said Biran.
That mission also includes establishing deterrence with local criminals, with Aharonovitch vowing that “there will be a war against the criminal minority in the city, and the benefit will be for residents.”
Sau addressed the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by a group of around 50 police and a dozen local leaders baking in the midday sun. The central district commander said the station’s main challenge will be “rebuilding the public’s trust in the police,” which he argued would be achieved in large part by combating the rising gun violence.
“Most of the residents of Tira are law-abiding people who want to live their lives in quiet. We are getting great cooperation from the residents, but we hope they will reach out to us more,” said Sau, adding that what the district is missing more than anything else, are officers from Tira who speak Arabic.
“If you ask 90 percent of the people in Tira they’ll tell you they’re against the station being here, but me, I’m glad, even though I don’t think it will really make a difference,” said Jihad Nasser, a 30-year-old employee of a butcher shop a block away from the station, who said the crime wave is linked to a problem with the values of the younger generation.
“When I was a kid there weren’t any murders, now it’s all the time. The kids are different today, they don’t have any honor, they don’t fear anyone. I’m 30 years old and I’ve never shot a gun in my life, but these kids today, they’re getting guns when they’re still teenagers,” he said.
Nasser then referred to the shooting of Nasser Abdel- Kader which took place 10 days earlier, just a little further down Tira’s main street.
Across the street, a 28-year-old father of one – who asked not to be named – said he also supports the opening of the station, hoping that it may bring about some changes, but expressing the same skepticism as other locals.
“I’m happy it’s here because of all the murders and burglaries, sure. The kids have changed here, nowadays people are afraid to go shopping, it’s not like it used to be,” the man said.
Like al-Hay, Nasser said that only time will tell if the station will make a difference. He then shared a personal anecdote about the heightened police presence in the city so far.
“In the past few months I’ve gotten two tickets for not wearing a seat belt while driving.
Other than that I haven’t really seen the police. They’re good at that, they’re great at doing that.”