We must save Kafr Kassem

Israel must improve law enforcement services in Arab towns so that they are at the same level as in Jewish ones.

MOURNERS CARRY the body of Muhammad Taha at his funeral in Kafr Kasim, in the Triangle area east of Kfar Saba. Mayor Adel Badir accused police of routinely harassing people in the street. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
MOURNERS CARRY the body of Muhammad Taha at his funeral in Kafr Kasim, in the Triangle area east of Kfar Saba. Mayor Adel Badir accused police of routinely harassing people in the street.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Kafr Kassem is unlike any other Arab city in the State of Israel, but paradoxically, the events that have been transpiring there in recent days are characteristic of many Arab towns in the country.
Officially declared a city in 2008, Kafr Kassem has a unique character that is extremely atypical of Arab communities in Israel. Its original inhabitants hail from the Mount Hebron area and neighboring villages, but over the years, a large number of Beduin from the Har Hanegev region have also moved in, generating intense friction between the various clans. Not to mention the 1956 massacre in which 48 villagers were shot dead by Border Police.
Despite a sulha (reconciliation ceremony) held with representatives of the Israeli government, villagers tenaciously hold onto the memory of the massacre. Indeed, a large monument stands at the center of the city, a constant reminder to passersby of the event.
In addition, over the years, a number of extremist religious factions have sprouted in Kafr Kassem, namely the Islamic Movement, founded in Israel by Sheikh Abdullah Nimar Darwish, which identifies with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and denies the right of the State of Israel to exist.
On the one hand, Kafr Kassem residents are very pragmatic and fairly entrenched in Israeli culture. They’ve maintained a harmonious relationship with neighboring Jewish towns, spending time in neighboring recreational establishments and visiting medical clinics in nearby Rosh Ha’ayin, Petah Tikva and Kfar Saba. Jewish Israelis in the area happily shop at stores in the Arab city, where shop owners graciously welcome them.
Kafr Kassem’s large industrial area even comprises dozens of Jewish-owned factories and businesses, and Jews who shop there feel no hostility or fear. Even the founders of the local Islamic Movement have become more practical and no longer call for the destruction of the State of Israel, and have officially distanced themselves from the more radical northern faction, headed by Sheikh Raed Salah Abu Shakra, who has been arrested.
But recently, Kafr Kassem has been experiencing a phenomenon that for years has been common in Israel’s Arab sector. These changes are the result of long-standing disregard by Israeli law enforcement of criminal acts in Arab towns and villages, most clearly demonstrated, perhaps, by the refraining of the construction of police stations in Arab communities. This has led to a steep rise in crime rates and of Kafr Kassem residents’ involvement in illegal activity in the area.
A special report submitted to the Knesset Interior Committee in 2010 noted that despite the fact that Arabs constitute only 20% of Israel’s population, they account for 40% of charges of suspected murders; 36% of attempted murder; 36% of aggravated assault; 36% of robbery; and 43% of robbery with aggravating circumstances. These numbers are unreasonable considering the percentage of Arabs in the general population.
The report also said that the crime rate in the Arab sector has risen from year to year. In response, everyone just shook their heads sorrowfully and clucked their tongues. Meanwhile, crime rates continue to rise, women continue to be murdered for family honor with no ramification for the perpetrators, and vast amounts of weapons are bought and sold right under the noses of the police, but nothing changes.
Police stations were finally opened in March 2016 in Arab towns such as Umm el-Fahm, Sakhnin and Kafr Kassem, and in March of this year, police presence was bolstered in Arab communities, including the recruitment of local residents to join the force. But all of this is too little, too late for the already-entrenched Wild West atmosphere of these areas.
For years, Arab communities in Israel have been intensely neglected and discriminated against, as they begged the government to build roads and improve garbage collection, to open health clinics and, of course, desperately- needed police stations. Residents of Arab towns who view themselves as Israeli receive sub-par treatment by the state, in stark contrast with their Jewish neighbors.
And now the same is happening in Kafr Kassem. There’s been a series of honor killings between long-standing family rivalries that have never been settled. Crime has become the norm, and Israel Police are completely ignoring the situation.
The solution to this problem is clear: Improve law enforcement services in Arab towns so that they are at the same level as in Jewish ones. Proper, full-size police stations need to be opened in each Arab town just as they are in Jewish areas, with an Israeli flag flying out front. A minimum number of police officers should be stationed in each town, and law enforcement work should be carried out, including tickets for moving violations, arrests, investigations and prosecutions. All of this will provide deterrence and quickly bring down crime rates. Problems such as illegal construction and agriculture need to be addressed, but permits to construct industrial areas and the paving of roads will also help Arab towns prosper and eventually encourage Arab youth to enlist in the IDF.
Arab population centers in Israel have undergone an accelerated process of Westernization and have assimilated into Israeli society to a certain extent. But continued integration has been blocked due to all of the above-mentioned obstacles. The time has come for the Israeli government to remove these stumbling blocks and invest in its Israeli Arab citizens, with the first step being to improve law enforcement in Arab towns. This will bring about a welcome and dramatic change for the better.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.