Arab citizens crying out for justice, no solution without gov. on board

Israeli society, the media and the government are coming to a new awareness of the severity of crime and violence in Arab society.

MK AYMAN ODEH speaking in Acre. Rising violence is an issue all sides want addressed, but how will they do it? (photo credit: REUTERS)
MK AYMAN ODEH speaking in Acre. Rising violence is an issue all sides want addressed, but how will they do it?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli society, the media and the government are coming to a new awareness of the severity of crime and violence in Arab society. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he is creating an inter-ministerial task force to deal with the situation is a significant development toward combating crime rates that have spiraled out of control.
Due to the multitude of factors contributing to the crime and violence plaguing Arab society, this phenomenon can only be addressed through a coordinated effort involving dedicated attention and resources from multiple government ministries. For over a year, The Abraham Initiatives has called for such an inter-ministerial task force to address the root causes of this unlivable situation – and now it is finally happening.
The prime minister’s historic decision is a recognition that violence is not only a problem of policing and enforcement, but of the neglect that Arab society has experienced by Israeli governments in all aspects of life for decades. This neglect is reflected in, among other things, the lack of employment opportunities, the lack of access to capital and credit, the shortage of land and housing options, the inadequate provision of leisure activities for children and adolescents, the absence of educational programs to combat violence in Arab schools, and in non-existent state institutions. All of these are profound causes of the rising violence and crime that civilians are trying to denounce and combat. But, they need the help of the state to succeed.
Last December, we sent the Prime Minister’s Office detailed recommendations of how this inter-ministerial effort should be approached. We advocated for these ideas in meetings with government officials, and successfully promoted the plan to Arab leadership, who adopted it as a central demand.
The involvement of all the ministries is key. The Public Security Ministry, including the police, will not be able to eradicate the lack of personal security, because crime is not the sole cause of the daily crisis experienced by Arab citizens.
Admittedly, the Israeli police have a long way to go until they are perceived as a reliable and beneficent actor in Arab society. The police must fight the brunt of the crime organizations, conduct proactive operations for the seizure of illegal weapons, gather evidence to be used to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice and, in general, do the utmost to allow Arab citizens to live in security. In order to change the bloody trend on the Arab street, the enlistment of all government ministries and state authorities is required. To date, services to Arab citizens have been less adequate than those received by Jewish citizens. This, too, must change.
FOLLOWING THE public protests in recent weeks, the police have increased its forces in some of the Arab communities. In one of them, the police took a necessary step and raided a drug station operating in the community for years – welcome action, of course. However, the unexpected result of the police raid was that dozens of junkies now roam the town and terrorize passersby in search of their next drug. It is worth asking where the welfare and treatment of addicts is in such a situation, and the sad answer is that, despite the high number of alcohol and drug addicts in this town, it does not operate an addiction treatment unit – so the drug bust unintentionally caused further harm to residents’ personal safety.
That is why a systemic solution in the form of a government plan is also needed in the other ministries, which today do not adequately respond to Arab society.
The fact that Netanyahu announced the creation of an inter-ministerial task force, to be headed by the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office and comprised of the directors-general of relevant government ministries, is a major step in the right direction. Both the make up of this team and the adopted objectives are identical to the recommendations that we have been working so hard to advance.
This is an important moment in the fight for personal security for Arab communities in Israel and an illustration of the impact of our advocacy – and, most importantly, marks the beginning of a major systematic government effort to tackle crime and violence in Arab society.
While this is a historic step, we will remain focused on ensuring that the benefits are fully realized. To this end, we will advocate for the following three key steps. First, the inter-ministerial task force must continue regardless of how the next Israel government is configured. Second, the task force must include senior representatives from all relevant ministries and agencies. Third, and most importantly, Arab society must be represented in a meaningful way in the planning and implementation of the task force’s recommendations. It is unbearable to us to imagine that decision-making about the Arab community could take place without the Arab community around the table.
The Arab citizens have been crying out for justice and protesting for solutions to the crime and violence plaguing their daily lives. We will keep working to implement our programs on the ground, as well as seeking accountability for the promises that have now been made.
Dr. Thabet Abu Rass and Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu are the Arab and Jewish co-directors of the Abraham Initiatives, a nonprofit organization based in Lod and dedicated to a shared and equal society for Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.