Our violent society

Violence will not only get you what you want - it will do so with the approval of the police, government and courts.

violence 88 (photo credit: )
violence 88
(photo credit: )
Fully 86 percent of Israelis believe that their society is becoming more violent, according to a recent survey by Haifa University's criminology department. And the data confirm this belief: A newly released Health Ministry compilation of statistics from major hospitals found that the number of people treated for wounds caused by nonterrorist violence surged 40 percent between 1998 and 2005. Altogether, hospitals treated 1,644 victims of nonterrorist violence in 2005, of whom 38.8 percent had been stabbed and another 11 percent shot. Between 2005 and 2007, according to the Haifa University poll, the proportion of people who said they had personally suffered violence doubled, from 3.2 to 7 percent of respondents. Some 17 percent said that use of firearms in their neighborhood had increased, while 30 percent feared becoming a victim of violence. To some extent, the rising violence is a predictable result of Palestinian terror: Numerous studies show that anger and violence increase when a society is under attack, as Israeli society undoubtedly has been since 2000. Much of it, however, is homegrown. And the biggest culprits are the law enforcement agencies themselves - because instead of sending the message that violence is unacceptable, they have consistently sent the message that violence is rewarded. NOTHING BETTER illustrates this pernicious message than the police's decision, confirmed by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter two weeks ago, to promote Brigadier General Niso Shoham to deputy commander of the Jerusalem District. Shoham made headlines as commander of the Negev District in 2005, when a television camera caught him ordering a subordinate to assault anti-disengagement protesters at Kfar Maimon. "Beat them with truncheons, low down … Let them burn, shit on them," he said. In any normal society, a senior police officer caught ordering his troops to beat peaceful demonstrators - and the Kfar Maimon protesters' exemplary behavior was acknowledged even by their fiercest opponents - would have been dismissed. Then police commissioner Moshe Karadi, however, made do with reprimanding him. By nominating Shoham for the Jerusalem post, current commissioner David Cohen proved that Karadi's attitude was no aberration. Though technically a lateral move, involving no rise in rank, it will boost Shoham's chances of future advancement, and is therefore effectively a promotion. And Dichter, by approving the nomination, reinforced the message that violence, far from being censurable, merits promotion. PERHAPS EVEN worse, however, was the lack of public outcry. One would have expected vociferous protests from both Shoham's victims and civil rights advocates. Instead, there has been an eerie silence - indicating that society at large has internalized the Cohen/Dichter message that violence is perfectly acceptable. If so, is it any wonder that violence is surging? And lest anyone doubt that Shoham's case reflects the law enforcement agencies' true attitude, last week's Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem proved it again. Due to fear of haredi violence, police imposed various restrictions on the marchers, including requiring them to hire 160 security guards at their own expense to bolster police forces. The Supreme Court upheld these conditions. Given Jerusalem's unique status as a city holy to three religions, one could argue that the parade should not have been held there at all. But once it received police approval, it also deserved full police protection. By instead requiring the demonstrators to help finance their own security, the police and the court proved that violence pays: Merely by threatening it, you can increase the financial cost of expressing opposing views, thereby deterring people from doing so. The 40-year-old ban on Jews praying on the Temple Mount is an even clearer example of rewarding violence. In numerous Supreme Court cases on this issue, both the government and the police have stated repeatedly that the reason for the ban is fear of Arab riots. And the court has repeatedly upheld this as a valid reason for forbidding Jewish worship at Judaism's holiest site. Often, it has even deemed this valid reason for barring Jews from the mount altogether. The message is unequivocal: Violence will not only get you what you want; it will do so with the approval of the police, government and courts. THAT THE rising tide of violence is not inevitable is clear from one city's success in combating it. Three years ago, Eilat introduced a program called "A City without Violence," and last month, it presented the results: Incidents of domestic violence dropped 50 percent last year, juvenile violence fell 35 percent and property crime plunged 60 percent. Similarly impressive declines occurred in the previous two years. As Dichter aptly noted in response, "a city without violence is the practical translation of a city without apathy." Eilat achieved its success precisely by sending the message, in every way possible, that violence is unacceptable. At school, for instance, disruptive students are "named and shamed" by posting their names on a bulletin board. Teachers also send regular letters to parents telling them whether their child's behavior "excels," "meets 85 percent of requirements" or "needs improvement." Two "needs improvement" letters trigger a parent-teacher conference. On the streets, police adopted a "zero-tolerance" policy toward violence. The city also established volunteer patrols involving both parents and students, further reinforcing the message that society as a whole had declared war on violence. But if Eilat's success showed what ending apathy can achieve, the government's response proved that apathy remains the norm. Upon taking office last spring, Dichter vowed to make combating violence his top priority. But instead of putting his money where his mouth is and implementing Eilat's program nationwide, he announced that it would be expanded only to 10 other cities - if the government finds the money. Thus far, the state has allocated only NIS 10 million. If the expansion in fact occurs, it will be only thanks to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which generously pledged an additional $2 million (NIS 8.4 million). Like the Shoham appointment, this refusal to properly finance the Eilat program sends an unequivocal message: Violence is no big deal. And until this message is reversed, violence will continue to rise. Gordon's regular weekly column appears in the Thursday Post. Caroline B. Glick will be back next week.