Inside Out: Crime and service in the Arab community

Arab MKs have thus far resisted efforts to contribute to their constituents’ integration into Israeli society by means of civilian service.

Ahmed Tibi_311 (photo credit: Reuters/Mahfouz Abu Turk)
Ahmed Tibi_311
(photo credit: Reuters/Mahfouz Abu Turk)
A meeting convened by MK Ahmed Tibi last week about the rampant crime, violence and lawlessness that have become a scourge of Arab society in Israel drew an impressive turnout of government and state officials. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, Education Minister Gidon Sa’ar, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino all attended.
A series of facts, figures and assessments were presented at the meeting, painting a disturbing picture of the terrifying realities of life in Arab communities. Forty percent of murder suspects are Arabs, as are 45% of road accident fatalities and 30% of convicts serving time for criminal offenses. Illegal weapons have flooded Arab villages, towns and cities, producing more than 1,100 reported incidents of gunfire in 2011. More than one-third of the Arabs in Israel have said the sound of gunfire in their neighborhoods or villages is a daily occurrence.
Even more impressive than the turnout was the seriousness of the response by government officials. Prime Minister Netanyahu was quoted as having said at the meeting: “There has been a general drop in crime in the State of Israel and, alternatively, there has been a rise in the Arab sector, which has begun to live a life that is insufferable in terms of the crime, murder, robbery, looting, threats [and] harassment. More than 40% say that they are afraid that someone will either hurt them or threaten them. That means... nearly every second citizen... I sense here a transitional moment. ...Nearly every second Arab citizen says, ‘I’m afraid in my home town.’ That... must be changed and... can be changed.”
Public Security Minister Aharonovich spoke about the increasing public dismay in the Arab sector, a development he cited as being conducive to producing real change. “There is a window of opportunity,” said Aharonovich. “In the three years that I’ve been in office I [can now] identify for the first time for a very long time that MKs, mayors, businesspeople and residents are truly and sincerely saying, ‘stop the violence and stop the crime in the sector.’”
Indeed, the man who sponsored the meeting, MK Ahmed Tibi, called on the police to take firmer action against criminals in the Arab sector, to find and confiscate the illegal guns and other weapons. A similar call for action was repeated by private Arab citizens who also attended the meeting.
Tibi’s demand, which appears to reflect a desire shared by many in the Arab-Israeli community, is particularly noteworthy in that it belies the public perception that has been fed over the years by Arab public figures, such as former MK Azmi Bishara and MK Haneen Zoabi, as well as by right-wing figures such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and his deputy, Danny Ayalon. Both groups of politicians have worked over the years to create the impression that the Arab community in Israel had no desire to be integrated into general Israeli society, to obey its laws and to be equal and fully-committed citizens but rather was more preoccupied by and beholden to the greater Palestinian cause. Certainly, there may be some Arab citizens of Israel who do not want to be an integral part of Israeli society and who harbor hostile feelings towards the state. Many Arab citizens place only qualified trust in the state’s institutions, such as the police, because of past grievances and discrimination. But it is also clear that many if not most of Israel’s Arab citizens want the state’s protection and yearn for integration as fully equal citizens.
Ahmed Tibi is that group’s most prominent representative, as he demonstrated in the above-described meeting last week. Tibi has also proven the seriousness of his intentions in his capacity as the chairman of the parliamentary commission for the integration of Arabs into the public sector, where he has worked diligently.
Tibi has never concealed his support for the Palestinian cause, but he has consistently spoken out against terrorism and, contrary to accusations, has called for the future Palestinian state to be established alongside of Israel and not in place of it. Tibi has also consistently said that he views himself as a full Israeli citizen who seeks equality for the community he represents in the Knesset.
The government has identified a “window of opportunity,” as Minister Aharonovich put it, to lower crime and to bring the Arab-Israeli community more fully into the fold of general Israeli society. But law enforcement can only be one component of that. “The problem involves not only the police. This is an interministerial problem of the Education, Culture and Infrastructure [Ministries],” said Aharonovich. “Teenagers who have nothing to do turn to crime, drugs and alcohol.”
Indeed this is not only a police problem, but neither is it only the government’s problem. It is also the problem of Arab society in Israel, which it can help solve it by means of civilian service. Civilian service, as an alternative to military service, will empower young Israeli men and women from the Arab community, providing them with an opportunity to do meaningful work on behalf of both their community and Israeli society as a whole, while protecting them against the allure of crime, drugs and alcohol.
The Arab MKs thus far have consistently resisted efforts to contribute to their constituents’ integration into Israeli society by means of civilian service. The time has arrived for Tibi and other Arab MKs who feel that their primary responsibility is toward their constituents – and not the greater Palestinian cause – to rise to the occasion and to embrace this solution, which will immeasurably benefit the Arab community and Israeli society as a whole.