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Hire More Arab Municipal Workers, Improve Services to Arab Neighborhoods in Mixed Cities, Israel’s Comptroller Recommends
Jewish and Arab residents clash near the Great Omari Mosque amid a night-time curfew in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod, Israel on May 12, 2021. (Oren Ziv/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Hire More Arab Municipal Workers, Improve Services to Arab Neighborhoods in Mixed Cities, Israel’s Comptroller Recommends

Israel Police have responded to the violent May 2021 clashes in mixed Arab-Jewish cities with reforms that include teaching Arabic to police officers and opening more police stations, but crime rates are still high   

Over a year after violent clashes erupted in Israeli cities where Arabs and Jews live together, the state comptroller recommends teaching Arabic to Israel Police officers and hiring more Arab municipal workers in the mixed cities.

The report by State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman published on Wednesday analyzed the May 2021 violence in the mixed cities, detailing its causes and making recommendations for changes in policy in order to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The report noted large-scale gaps in police operational forces in the involved cities. According to the report, most of the police reinforcement was sent to Jerusalem days before the clashes, leaving almost no manpower to enforce law in other cities.

Englman’s report identifies significant holes in the intelligence picture the Israel Police had days before the clashes. There was no intelligence about potential national criminal activity, and no active system to monitor social networks for potential threats to social order, according to the report. The result was a delayed and, many times, ineffective response by state authorities.

The report also deals with the underlying causes that led to tension in the mixed cities, naming economic gaps and social gaps as an accelerator of public rage, causing high crime rates and a fragile public order. One of the main recommendations of the report is to redesign budget policies in mixed cities, as a measure to prevent future violence.

Since the clashes, the Israel Police announced several reforms intended to improve law enforcement in Arab society, including opening more police stations and teaching Arabic to officers. But crime rates are still high: Over 50 Arab citizens were murdered in the first half of 2022, reaching an average of a killing almost every three days.

The Israel Police’s response to the report notes several efforts underway to improve law enforcement, including changes in the intelligence units and recruiting more officers. It also says that the police “established a special unit dedicated to fighting crime in Arab society, called Seif, which was active through 2022.”

“Enforcement is the easy solution, but by far not the most efficient one,” former Israel Police commander Jamal Hakrush told The Media Line. Hakrush served as the first commander of the Seif unit for over a year until his resignation in January 2022.

“The only real solution must go way deeper. If Arab youngsters live in poverty and are unemployed, there is a good chance they’ll turn to a life of crime,” Hakrush said.

He notes that this is relevant to both criminal violence and nationalistic violence. “When you see your neighbor working and doing okay, while you are poor and unemployed, it creates a sense of foreignness. I can always send 300 officers to take over a city. But the goal should be to prevent the young Arab from being involved in criminal life altogether,” he said.

The police see the Arab residents as an enemy. This conception must change, and officers need to understand they are civil servants; they are here to serve civilians, not fight them. The police must become part of the community, instead of an organization fighting it.

The comptroller’s report details the social background of the clashes and points out several failures. In all mixed cities, according to the report, there is a low- to non-existent number of Arab municipal workers, especially in senior positions; government investment in education is lower by 10%-20% per Arab student compared to Jewish students; and out of 500 municipal assets in mixed cities, only 5 were dedicated to the Arab population. The report recommends improving services to Arab residents, while increasing the enforcement of municipal tax collection, which is lower among them by 40%-60% in comparison to the Jewish population.

“The biggest failure of policing in Arab and mixed cities is a many-years-long discrimination of Arab citizens,” Knesset lawmaker Ofer Kasif told The Media Line. “The report itself represents part of the problem. The fact that there is no mention of Jewish nationalistic crime during the clashes demonstrates the discrimination, and the fact that the State sees Arab citizens as a problem, and not as equal citizens,” he said.

Kasif is the only Jewish member of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, and is a vocal critic of the Israel Police and other Israeli security forces. Kasif said he thinks that the main problem in the relationship between the Israel Police and the Arab population “is that the police see the Arab residents as an enemy. This conception must change, and officers need to understand they are civil servants; they are here to serve civilians, not fight them. The police must become part of the community, instead of an organization fighting it.”

While Kasif supports the idea of governmental support to the Arab population as a means to reduce crime, he is skeptical about the contribution of Arab police officers such as Hakrush. “It can’t be a question of identity politics. If they appoint someone to a position just because he’s Arab, or Jewish, or whatever, but he isn’t professional and he doesn’t want to turn the police into a civil service, it won’t make any difference,” he said.

One of the civil society organizations which contributed to the report is the Abraham Initiatives – a non-profit organization promoting a shared society for Jews and Arabs in Israel.

“We took government representatives to see things on the ground when they were writing it, but I think the report is problematic,” Ola Najami-Yousef, deputy executive director of programs for the Abraham Initiatives, told The Media Line.

“It doesn’t mention Jewish nationalistic crime, and it sees the Arab society as generally violent,” she said.

Najami-Yousef points out that there are problematic relations between the Israel Police and Arab citizens. “A few days ago there was a shooting in an Arab village. The police couldn’t find the shooter, but an independent squad of village residents found him and exiled him from the village,” she said. “This shows you two things: One, that the police are still incapable of doing its job in many cases. And two, that people don’t even trust it to press charges after the criminals are caught.”

She emphasizes that there have been some improvements. “There is defiantly more cooperation between Arab citizens and the police than there was in the past,” she said. But she is not optimistic that the positive changes are permanent, noting that a new government and government ministers after the upcoming Knesset elections could lead to new policies.

 

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