Raymond M. Berger
Real Bullet Points

Israeli Arabs Feel Unsafe. Whose Fault Is That?

It may be politically incorrect to say so, but there are aspects of Arab culture that lead to violence.

An article in a major Israeli newspaper reported the disturbing findings of a recent public survey: Over one-third of Israeli Arabs feel unsafe in their communities.¹ (Only 13 percent of Jewish Israelis feel the same.) The source of this insecurity is local crime.

According to the authors of the survey, the Abraham Initiative, violent crime in Israeli-Arab communities is due to “deep-rooted discrimination against Arabs in all aspects of Israeli society.”

Does Anti-Arab Discrimination Cause Arab Crime?

I understand that many Arabs feel threatened by crime in their communities. And I am willing to believe there is some level of discrimination against Arabs in Israel. But exactly how does that discrimination cause crime?

Do Israeli officials discriminate against Arab-Israelis by shortchanging Arab communities when it comes to police protection? Arab politicians and community advocates often say so.

The Israeli government has responded to these complaints by opening more police stations in Arab communities, by training local Arabs as police officers and assigning them to these stations.

This is a reasonable crime-fighting initiative. But it misses the more basic question: Why do Arab communities need the presence of police in order for their residents to behave?  Why is there so much crime in Arab communities to begin with?

It is as if Arabs opened the city’s fire hydrants, allowed the water to flow, and then complained about water shortages. The obvious remedy is to keep the fire hydrants shut, as they should be.

The all-too-obvious solution to the lack of security in Arab areas is to lower the rate of Arab crime. Israeli politicians don’t dare to say that out loud for fear it would be perceived as racist. But, if a politician suggested that Jewish Israelis would feel safer if the Jewish crime rate were to decrease, would that be racist?

I would like to ask the authors of the Abraham Initiative survey: How exactly does anti-Arab discrimination in “all aspects of Israeli society” lead to Arab crime?

If I am an Arab and I find that Jewish employers will not hire me, does that lead me to commit a crime of violence against other Arabs? Perhaps I might take out my frustration on my spouse or children?

Likewise, if a Jewish landlord refuses to rent an apartment to me, how exactly will that make me commit a violent crime, again, against a fellow Arab?

If a Jewish school refuses to admit my child, will that make me or my child commit a crime against a fellow Arab?

The Abraham Initiative claim that unfair Jewish behavior leads to Arab crime is preposterous. Not only is it illogical. There is not a shred of evidence that it is true.

It is more likely that Arab crime is motivated, not by external factors, but by internal ones. We should look at the nature of Arab communities to explain their higher crime rates. That is not to say that Jewish Israelis are always fair to their Arab fellow-countrymen. But we should first look to the most likely causes of crime.

Keeping Mum

I imagine that Arab and Jewish police in highcrime Arab towns are frustrated. Arab community leaders accuse the state of providing less policing in Arab areas. But when a crime is committed in an Arab town, police investigators encounter a problem: Few residents are willing to talk to police. When police officers enter the area, doors and windows shut.

There is also the problem of clan culture. Many Israeli Arabs don’t dare report a murder or assault they have witnessed. If they did so, they themselves could become a victim of the perpetrator’s clan, for having violated the community’s strictly enforced code of silence.

In some Arab quarters, Arabs who help the police are labelled collaborators. Not only is this socially uncomfortable, it could be dangerous for the perceived collaborator.

Other Internal Causes

It may be politically incorrect to say so, but there are aspects of Arab culture that lead to violence. Although not all Arabs adhere to these cultural values, many do, including Israeli Arabs.

There is the matter of Arab honor killings, a phenomenon unknown among Jews. For example, if I discover that my daughter has secretly met with a boy whose family I dislike, I am likely to perceive that as a stain of dishonor on my family and clan. The traditional way to restore honor to the family and clan is for me, or the girl’s brothers, to kill my daughter.

Recently I met an Egyptian who was forced to flee his country, when his family discovered that he was communicating with the Israeli embassy in Cairo. This “shameful” act led his mother to order his brothers to kill him.

The ancient practice of blood revenge is another motivator of crime. It operates within traditional Arab clans, especially among the Bedouin. Under this practice, if a person outside of my clan commits an offense against a member of my clan, there must be an adjustment of accounts. So, for example, if my cousin is killed in a road accident by someone outside my clan, I am obligated to exact an equal punishment against the “offender.” If I fail to do so I lose stature in my community, I am derided by my family and clan, and I may even be the target of threats or violence.

There are other factors that may animate Arab crime. These include the tendency to take offense easily, and the importance of not “losing face” for failing to defend oneself or one’s family and clan.

The Bottom Line

Do Jews also have cultural practices that lead to discord and violence? They do. For example, some Jewish immigrants from Russia have brought with them a propensity for organized crime, importing a cultural institution from Russia. This is reflected in news reports about booby-trapped cars and gang-related assassinations, among other crimes.

But the higher crime rates in Arab communities—-especially rates of violent crime—-suggest that culturally-encouraged crimes are a greater problem among Arabs.

It is important to remember that the great majority of Israelis—-from all groups—-are law-abiding. These are the people that need protection by the state.

But the state can only be effective in protecting its citizens if its actions are based on reality.

Instead of offering excuses for crime—-excuses such as positing an unproven link between discrimination and violent behavior—we should hold accountable the people who commit crimes. Whoever they are.

Footnote

  1. Turjeman, M. Study: More than One-third of Israel’s Arab Citizens Feel Unsafe in their Communities. YNET News, July 26, 2019. Retrieved July 26, 2019 from:

https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5555933,00.html

About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors.
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