The Wild South

Israel shouldn't have been surprised by the savagery of last week's car heist turned bad.

police 88 (photo credit: )
police 88
(photo credit: )
Police officer Shlomi Asulin was gravely wounded on Sunday night as he spotted and sought to apprehend two car thieves on his Rehovot beat. One of the two reacted by using his screwdriver to stab the 27-year-old Asulin in the neck. The assailant's partner was arrested at the scene and the alleged stabber himself - Tareb abu-Issa, from the Beduin township of Tel Sheva - was captured later after having fled southwards. Abu-Issa is a convict on furlough, having been sentenced to a four-year term for burglary and auto larceny. The savagery to which an ordinary car heist quickly deteriorated took the country by surprise. It shouldn't have. When lawlessness is allowed to reign over an entire region, no other part of the country can expect to remain immune. The nature of violence is to spread if it is not stemmed at the point of origin. If criminals are allowed to get away with felonies in one area, they feel encouraged to expand operations elsewhere - in this case, to Rehovot. Negev residents have for years been calling their region the Wild South. The appellation has stuck - and become common even in police and political parlance - with good reason. There's no denying the state of anarchy, especially in Beersheba and its vicinity. Beduin locals operate protection rackets in broad daylight and fill their victims with fear for their very lives. Thefts and robberies are a daily occurrence, but stolen vehicles are the least of the troubles around Beersheba. Numerous homeowners have been forced to pay protection fees to uninvited Beduin "guards." Often this begins when homes are under construction. Yediot Aharonot recently reported cases in which such "watchmen" considerately proposed "discounts" after a while. In some cases, the newspaper reported, the VAT authorities demanded their cut from the illicit income. The protection-providers' threats are so potent that victims often shrink from testifying. A recently organized protest failed because locals feared being identified and punished by the extorters. Those who stop paying face penalties: homes are broken into and ransacked, and in one case, boiling tar was poured throughout the premises. In Beersheba's Emek Sarah industrial zone, stores are reportedly being raided openly, without hesitation, during daylight business hours. Pick-ups are driven through showroom windows and loaded with merchandise. Some establishments - most popular are those selling electrical appliances and building supplies - have suffered a dozen such attacks. Insurance firms are said to be refusing to offer their services to Emek Sarah entrepreneurs. What is available is the unsolicited protection of Beduin guards. If refused, businesses can go up in flames. The businessmen accuse the police of apathy and the police accuse the victims of failing to cooperate. Indeed they don't. They understandably dread the consequences of giving evidence against their tormentors. Seeking to curb the lawlessness, Mekorot installed secret cameras at its many installations throughout the Negev. The results: photographic evidence of gangs dismantling the national water company's pumping equipment, loading it onto trucks, sabotaging what was left, and then disappearing. But the police have proven helpless, and the pumping stations have been reconstructed with the knowledge that it is likely only a matter of time until they are destroyed yet again. The Knesset Interior Committee recently heard harrowing accounts from southern farmers of their plight. Some told the MKs they feel so abandoned and unprotected that they are contemplating leaving agriculture altogether. They said everything from irrigation equipment to ripe produce packed for distribution is being stolen by perpetrators who are becoming alarmingly brazen. They are also becoming increasingly violent. Still more troubling is the evidence that some of these same Beduin gangs, with this increasing proclivity to violence, are responsible for much of the smuggling across the border with Egypt. The farmers told the Knesset committee that the rolling fields of Israel's south seem to be outside the law and beyond control. They warned that if the scourge is not quickly addressed, it will spread northwards. What has now happened to police officer Asulin indicates that it already has spread. How much worse must it get? How many more businesses, farmers, police officers and others must directly feel the consequence before adequate attention and effort are devoted to quelling it?