Israel can't stop Arab sector murders without gov't accountability - opinion

The problem is that the whole political system is geared to not be held accountable.

 A PROTEST against rampant violence in the Arab sector takes place following shooting attacks, in Nazareth, last week.  (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
A PROTEST against rampant violence in the Arab sector takes place following shooting attacks, in Nazareth, last week.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

“Shin Gimel” is the Hebrew acronym used in the IDF for the guard at the entrance to a military base.

It is also the term used to describe one of the more shameful phenomena in the military – when probes into operational failures end with the punishment of junior commanders. Basically, it describes how junior soldiers take the fall for more senior ones.

That was true until this week. On Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi accepted recommendations to remove a brigade commander from his post and to reprimand a division commander and a battalion commander for the failures surrounding the tragic killing two weeks ago of three IDF soldiers along the Egyptian border. It was the first time in more than 20 years that a brigade commander – an officer with the rank of a colonel – was removed from his post due to an operational failure.

While there are legitimate questions about why the reprimands stopped at the division commander and did not make their way up to the head of the Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Toledano, there was still something reassuring in seeing how it did not stop this time at the Shin Gimel. Halevi took the incident seriously and used it to send a message throughout (almost) the entire chain of command.

It was reassuring because it was a serious break from the Israeli norm, where instead of taking responsibility for one’s actions or being held accountable, people get away with mistakes, failures and even negligence.

Israel works to identify 44 killed in Lag Ba'omer Mount Meron stampede (credit: ISHAI YERUSHALMI)
Israel works to identify 44 killed in Lag Ba'omer Mount Meron stampede (credit: ISHAI YERUSHALMI)

The Israeli status quo: People don't take responsibility and get away with their mistakes, failures

Take the Lag Ba’omer disaster at Meron in 2021 as an example. There were 45 people killed and, even two years later, no one has been held accountable. The contrary is true – the prime minister is still the same prime minister (he was elected again in between), the police commissioner is still the same police commissioner and the public security minister from back then actually got promoted. He is now the speaker of the Knesset.

Forty-five people dead and not a single person has needed to step down for the series of failures that led to those tragic deaths. The fact that the IDF chief of staff fired a brigade commander and reprimanded a division commander within 10 days of a border attack sounds almost impossible when compared to Meron.

This is all worth thinking about when considering the performance of Itamar Ben-Gvir over the last six months as Israel’s public security minister, or as he decided to call himself – the national security minister. It is quite the name considering that there is very little about him that promotes “national” interests or Israel’s “security.”

This government took office at the end of December and since then, it has faced significant challenges – the fight over judicial reform, a wave of terror attacks, a US effort to renew a nuclear deal with Iran and, probably the most severe right now, the unprecedented spate of murders in the Israeli-Arab sector.

Since the beginning of 2023, 102 Israeli-Arabs have been murdered, constituting a 200% increase in comparison to the same period last year.

But instead of looking at himself, his actions since taking office, or the steps that he can order the police to take, Ben-Gvir prefers to look for easy solutions, joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in trying to get the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the security agency designed to fight terrorists, to combat Israeli citizens.

THERE ARE three inherent problems with using the Shin Bet for this kind of mission and for these exact reasons, the organization and the attorney general are against the idea.

The first problem is that the Shin Bet is also short on resources. Having it focus on Arab crime as opposed to Palestinian terrorism will distract the agency from its main mission. Second, its tools are not meant to be used against the country’s citizens. These tools are aggressive, invasive and often mean a violation of civil rights. It is one thing to use those tools against enemy combatants; it is another to do so against your own citizens.

And that is worth remembering – these Arab-Israelis are citizens of this country like the Jewish citizens. Their rights need to be the same.

The third problem in getting the Shin Bet involved, is assuming that doing so alone is the solution when in fact all it means is another nail in the coffin of the Israel Police. What is really needed is a state investment in the police and recognition that it needs resources, quality manpower and advanced technology to effectively do its job. Bringing in the Shin Bet is running away from the real work.

Just look at the number of murder cases that have been solved in the Israeli-Arab sector. In 2023 so far, there have been 12 murders in the Jewish sector. In ten of them – 83% – indictments have been filed. In the Arab sector, on the other hand, the numbers are distinctly different – only 8% of cases have seen indictments.

This requires a lot more work than just getting the Shin Bet involved. In the last government, there was a special task force that worked on a holistic plan – including collecting illegal weapons, deploying more policemen and working with the local community – that was successful in bringing down the numbers. What did Ben-Gvir do? He shut down the task force.

And there was nothing better than the picture that came out of the meeting on Sunday that Netanyahu convened to discuss the murder spate. The relevant ministers were there, the police chief, the Shin Bet chief, the attorney general and more. Who wasn’t there? An Arab community representative.

The way the government manages this is about accountability. If ministers and politicians knew that they would be held accountable for what happens under their watch they would act differently.

The problem is that the whole political system is geared to not be held accountable. Politicians know that if 45 people can die in the country’s greatest civil tragedy and nothing can happen to them, then why would they need to do the serious and hard work required to solve fundamental problems like the murder epidemic in the Arab sector?

To them, band-aid-like solutions are enough.

The writer is the immediate past editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.