Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Message to the Police: Ask What Arabs Want

Image: Israeli Police (Wikimedia Commons)
Image: Israeli Police (Wikimedia Commons)

Among the blowback from an Arab Women’s Facebook post about domestic violence was this statement: “You (Arabs in general, I suppose they meant) don’t want the police in your cities, and then you do want them. You can’t have it both ways.”

Is this just a cliched trope that excuses the crime rates in some parts of the Arab minority in Israel? In light of the new government infighting about the police and the role of the Minister of Internal Security, it might be time to investigate this claim.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are standing on one edge of a widening chasm when it comes to their status. They are still seen by many Jewish Israelis as the “enemy within,” while they mainly see themselves – and would like to be seen as others – as equal citizens of the state. The latest elections, with their crude anti-Islamicist-party rhetoric and dizzying tilt to the radical right are a symptom of this divide. Oft-repeated slurs included this one: “They support terrorism!!!”

In light of the frequent news reports that feed this viewpoint, depicting unrest that connects Gaza to Jerusalem to the Palestinian population within the Green Line, it is interesting to note the results of a study conducted in 2021 in the Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies:

The largely non-violent nature of the Arab minority in Israel is linked to long term processes of socialization toward coexistence with Jewish society, which binds them to the state and the Jewish public in many respects. The majority of Arab citizens of Israeli consider Israel to be their country; they wish to preserve their citizenship and rights, and seek to extend their integration, while retaining their identity as a native minority and members of the Palestinian people.

This is, of course, referring to violence against the state, not violence within the country against its citizens. It suggests that very little of the violent crime experienced in Israel’s Palestinian communities is nationalistic or tied to terrorism. The “enemy within” myth may be politically useful, but it is a boogeyman.

In contrast, the “wave of violence sweeping the Arab sector,” as it is framed in the media, is real. It’s a serious problem, and one that harms the Arab population disproportionately, though it most often makes the news when Jews are threatened, for example, by young Bedouins driving recklessly. It’s true that entering certain Palestinian neighborhoods, the police have encountered violence, and it’s true a number have been unwilling to risk themselves over “fights between Arabs.” It’s true there are way too many weapons in certain parts of Arab communities (mostly stolen and sold from IDF stores), and that this stockpiling has gone on for years with little police effort to stop or prevent it. Intentional police neglect, as many Palestinians claim, is harder to prove, but the women who file complaint after complaint with the police, only to find themselves repeatedly victims of violence, have little trouble believing the assertion.

The ‘wave of violence sweeping the Arab sector,’ as it is framed in the media, is real

Arab resistance to the police or police neglect? Take your pick.

What is harder to deny is that Palestinian and Jewish Israelis are treated differently by the police. In Lod, during the unrest of May 2021, the border patrol was called in to restore the peace. Over several days, Palestinian citizens of Lod were harassed, many of them hid in fear, while Jews, including those who had arrived by the busload purely to incite, roamed the streets freely. Arab teenage girls holding a non-violent, anti-violence demonstration found themselves surrounded by armed police and soldiers.

Here’s another story I heard from a Palestinian woman about her experience of those disturbances in 2021. When a gang of Jewish hoodlums neared her building, she and her children turned off the lights and hid in silence. But a neighbor stepped out to confront them. He pointed his semiautomatic weapons at them, and the group moved on to another area. The woman suddenly realized, in light of his armory, that the neighbor was probably a member of a local crime organization. But he was also protecting her and her children – something the police and border patrol were definitely not doing that day. What should a woman do in her situation?

Fear and distrust are built in — features, if you will – of a grossly defective system. They go both ways and cause immense harm. It is hard to imagine my country finding the will, these days, to root out the causes of that distrust. Even in the best of times, building bridges to communities of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens is beyond the scope and abilities of the police, alone. A recent Washington Institute analysis put it this way:

The Jewish side must recognize and address the prejudice and discrimination that Israeli Arabs face, currently a well-fed petri dish for growing alienation and hostility. In turn, Arab society must also engage in soul-searching, especially when it comes to the tendency to explain away or over-contextualize violence—tantamount to justification. Likewise, leaderships must recognize that there is a serious problem: Israeli Arab society has lost its grip on the younger generation, which is facing a deep sense of despair.

Women, children and men, Palestinian citizens of Israel who want to live in security and peace, are the majority. Here is what we (I write as an honorary Arab woman, though not necessarily in the name of all Arabs) want: We want the police to enter our cities and neighborhoods in order to confiscate guns. Better yet, we want them to stop the sale of stolen weapons from army bases, and we want gun collection programs that will benefit our children and our communities.

Better yet, we want a system that can deal with violent criminals and prevent violence

We want police protection when we are threatened, as is the right of every citizen of this country. Better yet, we want a system that can deal with violent criminals and prevent violence.

We want police with cultural sensitivity, who show up before someone is murdered, and not just after, who are willing to explore solutions rather than impose them. Better yet, we want the authorities to adopt a holistic approach to lowering crime that treats us as equal citizens before the law and which gives rise to solutions that include education, social welfare, equal opportunities and more.

What we don’t want: a police force that is the strong arm of an extreme political organization; we fear it will be one used to repress a part of the population; we are almost certain it will be erected on the foundations of distrust, rather than seeking to build trust.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.