Editorial: Lessons from Lod

Arab Israelis are entitled to the same security and protection from crime as Jews and should not be made to feel like second-class citizens.

Netanyahu and Aharonovitch 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
Netanyahu and Aharonovitch 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
Last Monday, just one day after 41-year-old Lod resident Sami Hijazi was shot to death while sitting in his car outside Lod City Hall, 27-year-old Emil Halili met the same fate while waiting for a train to pass. Neither of the victims had criminal records.
In response, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that together with police and security officials he would take steps “to return the sense of security” to the residents of Lod, a city with a long history of conspicuous criminal activity, especially in the Arab community. Undoubtedly, more needs to be done to improve the personal security of Arab Israelis.
In the wake of the Lod killings, Arab citizens expressed feelings of alienation and disenfranchisement from government authorities. Only a few of the dozens of Arab representatives invited by Lod Mayor Ilan Hariri to an emergency meeting to discuss the deteriorating situation agreed to attend.
Instead, they held a meeting of their own, at which they resolved to complain to the national ombudsman and the attorney-general about the police force’s lax enforcement in their city. A mass demonstration is scheduled for Thursday.
In interviews with this paper’s reporter, Ben Hartman, Lod’s Arab citizens have described a police force that takes the murders of Arabs by Arabs too lightly. “Honor” killings or casualties as a result of infighting among vying crime families are barely investigated, they claim.
Also, Lod Police give the Arab residents the impression that they are not attuned to their cultural and religious sensibilities. Police insisted, for instance, that Halili’s murder was an “honor” killing, even after the family set up a mourning tent, which is not done in Muslim culture after such killings.
The feeling of alienation is not restricted to Lod.
A study released at the beginning of the year by the Abraham Fund Initiative found that among some 1,000 Arab Israelis surveyed, 77 percent said the police gave preferential treatment to Jews.
Sixty-two percent wanted more police in their community. Respondents said lack of police response to crime in Arab towns contrasted with “over-policing” of Arab citizens in Jewish or mixed towns.
Although the relationship between the Israel Police and the Arab minority in Israel has always been complex and sensitive, the Arab rioting of October 2000, in which 13 Arab Israelis were killed by police, bolstered mutual antagonism and suspicion.
ARAB ISRAELIS have every reason to be concerned about deteriorating relations with police. They make up 60% of murder victims although they are just 20% of the population, according to a Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee report released in February.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch has already launched a crackdown in Lod on illegal arms smuggled in from Egypt and Jordan or stolen from the IDF. Dozens of rifles, handguns and grenades have been discovered in graves, mattresses and other hiding places, and hundreds more are thought to be hidden.
But more needs to be done to build trust. Police officers should create ties with Arab community leaders. They should familiarize themselves with Arab culture and learn some Arabic. And Arab communities should be encouraged to set up their own neighborhood patrols in conjunction with police.
But perhaps the single most important step that can be taken is to actively recruit more Arabs into the police force to work in Arab communities.
According to the above-mentioned Knesset report, there are only 382 Arab Muslims in a police force of 21,242, or just 1.8% of the force.
Aharonovitch has said that he plans to enlist another 400 Arab police officers this year through a special affirmative action program. Integrating more Arabs into police ranks would help combat the community’s strong feelings of disenfranchisement.
Arab police officers would also serve as positive role models.
Arab Israelis are entitled to the same level of security and protection from crime as Jews. They should not be made to feel like second-class citizens.