“The wicked flee though no one gives chase, But the righteous are as confident as a lion.” Psalms 28:1 (The Israel Bible™)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh inaugurated two new police stations on Tuesday as part of a government plan to strengthen police presence in the Arab sector. The stations are located in Jisr az-Zarqa, a small village north of Caesarea and Kfar Kanna in Galilee where crime and lawlessness is widespread.
“The demand and the right to accept the rule of law, the enforcement of law and order, as is common in all parts of Israel, is a primary national mission for me. We have discussed it many times – and in the end, we made the decisions first to add budgets, then to train forces from the Arab sector and then to build more police stations,” Netanyahu said.
The move to expand police presence in the Arab sector follows a steady rise in crime rates in Arab communities across Israel in recent years. In April 2016 Netanyahu threw his support behind a multi-year plan to boost personal security in Arab communities. The plan called for the ministries of finance and public security to build new police stations, recruit 2,600 new officers and strengthen police operational capabilities.
Improving law enforcement in the Arab sector has long been a demand of Arab leaders, including Knesset members. MKs Ahmad Tibi, MK Hanin Zoabi and Yousef Jabareen have spoken often from the Knesset floor about the need to improve police services in Arab towns and asked the government both to attack organized crime and to confiscate illegal weapons.
In real terms, however, efforts to police the Arab community have proven difficult, with mutual enmity and lack of faith between police officers and local residents. Arab civic and political leaders say the department’s performance in their communities compares poorly to other minority communities in the country.
“The Arabs do not trust the police because they feel that decisions are made without taking them into real consideration, without consulting with the local leadership,” said Muhammad Hasan Amara, a political studies professor at Bar Ilan University who specializes in the status of Arabs in Israel. “On one hand, Israeli Arab citizens want more police presence in their towns; on the other hand they do not trust the police.
“Everything is done by force. For instance, last week the police ended an amnesty offer campaign in Arab society urging citizens to voluntarily turn in illegal weapons. The campaign was a failure because it lacked coordination with local leadership. And many Arabs do not believe that the police will honor their promise of immunity from prosecution, ” Amara told Tazpit Press Service (TPS).
According to the Index of Personal Security in Arab Towns, a 2016 public opinion poll published by The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a Jewish-Arab NGO that promotes coexistence and equality among Arab and Jewish Israelis, only 74 percent of Arabs said police do not provide adequate security in their communities, compared to 37 percent of Jews. In addition, 32 percent of Arab citizens said they feel insecure in their hometowns, compared to just 12 percent of Jews, and 54 percent of Arab citizens said there is a problem with violence in their hometowns, compared to only 14 percent of Jewish citizens.
Arab leaders cautiously welcomed the consecration of the new stations. Rasool Saada, director of The Abraham Fund’s Safe Communities Initiative, said that building trust between the Arab population and police is far more important than brick-and-mortar buildings.
“Sixty percent of Arab society does not trust the police as a force responsible for public security, law enforcement, maintaining public order, fighting crime. It is important to build a model of community policing which can include sensitivity to Arab culture, respect for local leadership and recognition of the existing state of poverty,” Saada told TPS by phone. “At the moment the police see Arab citizens as a threat, and the residents see policemen as enemies. The success of the project will be measured by whether or not the police can build trust in the Arab population.”
The police, for their part, say the new police stations are part of the ongoing strategic plan to advance and expand community work and cooperation within the Arab community.
“Different police points with inside the neighborhoods have been opened in order to improve the daily services that police are giving to the Israeli Arab communities… the model began in 2011 when 13 units were opened; today there are 52 existing units and 66 are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017,” said Israeli Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld .