Israel Police Mount Large-scale Operation To Curb Arab Sector Criminal Violence
In one of the biggest police operations ever, 78 arms dealers were incriminated including a 13-year-old child and an Israeli combat soldier
In a large-scale operation early Tuesday morning, Israel Police officers raided the homes of more than 60 people suspected of arms dealing. The raids mark the end of a yearlong operation against arms dealing in Israel’s Arab sector.
Using a criminal-turned-undercover-agent, the operation managed to incriminate 78 people suspected of arms dealing, Israel Police said. Many of the suspects were already known to police; however, the list includes some surprises, most notably, a 13-year-old child and an Israeli combat soldier.
Forty rifles, 13 pistols, two machine guns and explosive material ready for use were seized in the Tuesday morning raids, Israel Police said. The raids led to the largest number of arrests of arms dealers, as well as the largest seizure of weaponry since the country’s establishment, according to the police.
Police Superintendent and Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi told the Israeli news website Ynet that the dealers arrested were “the most dominant in the Israeli Arab sector.” Lavi added: “It’s a top priority for us because we understand that it has the biggest influence on homicides in the Arab sector. There was a decision made not to ‘swat at the mosquitoes’ but to dry the swamp and address those at the head.”
The operation comes as a deadly wave of violent crime holds the Arab sector in its grip.
With almost two months left until the end of 2021, 106 Israeli Arabs have already fallen victim to a string of homicides and shootings this year. Some 113 Arab citizens of Israel lost their lives to criminal violence in 2020. Numerous protests have been held by Arab citizens, demonstrating against neglect of the crisis by the state and the police. At the end of October, the government approved a multiyear program for coping with the crime wave, which will receive a budget of 2.5 billion NIS, or about $800 million.
Chief Superintendent Leah Leshem, spokesperson for the Israel Police’s Northern District, told The Media Line that “it is clear that when you have a weapon, it is much easier” to commit a violent crime. The absence of weapons acts as a mitigating factor. However, the current problem in the Arab sector runs deeper, she explains. “The weapons are a tool, ok? The issue is conflict resolution. When there are no weapons available, there are other ways to murder or hurt,” she said.
At the same time, Leshem notes that there has already been a decrease in the rate of violent crime, and she expects this trend to continue, not necessarily because of the recent operation.
Many more such events need to be carried out for the situation to change – to gain the trust of the Arab population. One operation isn’t enough, but it’s an indication of what’s coming.
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Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of The Abraham Initiatives, a Jewish-Arab organization striving “to fulfill the promise of full and equal citizenship and complete equality of social and political rights for Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens,” believes that the operation will create a feeling within Israeli Arab society that the police is truly active against the wave of violence. This, in turn, will translate into a greater feeling of personal security in Arab neighborhoods and municipalities.
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu told The Media Line that the operation “is a very important event that naturally will have an impact” on violence in the Arab sector. At the same time, he said, “many more such events need to be carried out for the situation to change – to gain the trust of the Arab population. One operation isn’t enough, but it’s an indication of what’s coming.”
Looking to the future, in order to properly fight the issue of violence, Be’eri-Sulitzeanu says that “what we need is the rapid movement of a fine tweezer. Such operations are extremely important. There are several things that need to be done in tandem: addressing the source causes of crime and violence, treating disengaged youth, retrieving illegal weaponry. It all needs to happen together.”
Following the operation, Israel’s Minister of Public Security Omer Barlev tweeted that “coping with the crime and weaponry in the Arab street was defined by us a central and national goal.” In a press conference on Tuesday, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that “2021 is gearing up to be a record year in the number of weapons seized, criminals arrested and charges brought to court.”
“We’ve reached a time where there’s an understanding that things must progress,” Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Israel Police’s focused efforts will be sufficient to bring back the sense of security so urgently needed in Israel’s Arab towns.