Search on suspicion, the new Israeli version
Recently, I heard a Palestinian man describe the experience of driving home through a checkpoint, with his family in the car. He found himself faced with a barrage of semi-automatic weapons pointed at him, and he was forced, in front of his wife and children, to exit the car while it was searched. Frightened and humiliated, he wondered how to explain to his children the scene they had witnessed.
A new law, passed Tuesday evening, could make this sort of arbitrary stop-and-search a reality for many Palestinians within the Green Line. The law, which allows police to search for illegal weapons without a warrant is supposedly temporary. It passed with little fanfare and with support from some members of the opposition, as the previous government had already tried to pass a similar law and failed.
It is a law entirely directed against the Palestinian community in Israel. (In fact, Jews, in parallel, are being encouraged to carry weapons in public.)
The law does require the approval of a police superintendent or one of higher rank in order to conduct searches of homes and property, but the condition for these searches is simply suspicion. And as Palestinian citizens of the state know, the mere fact of their being Palestinian is grounds for suspicion.
Before any right-wing readers get on my case, I’m aware this law is a double-edged sword. Organized crime and illegal weapons possession are a real problem in Palestinian communities in the country, and we do need better means of confiscating illegal weapons.
Superintendents hoping to improve their ‘tough on crime’ standing could give broad approval for the searches
Still, I can’t help but be reminded of the “stop-and-frisk” laws in the US that are applied mainly against minorities. Blacks there jokingly refer to the crime of “driving while Black,” but it is no joke. I have heard their stories, too, and they resonate with the experience of the Palestinian minority here in Israel. Forget “profiling.” We are talking about racism and stereotyping – the kind that exists practically everywhere, and which can easily lead to abuse in law enforcement.
In places like Lod, Tira and Rahat, young and middle-aged Palestinian men will be subject to searches of their homes and cars, simply because of the way they look. Superintendents hoping to improve their “tough on crime” standing could give broad approval for the searches.
Blacks in the US have access to legal recourse if they can prove they were stopped with no grounds for suspicion, but the current justice reforms could weaken this option for Palestinian citizens of Israel. In the US, there has been much discussion on whether such searches are constitutional, but here, opponents and victims of the practice have no constitution on which to hang their arguments.
Meanwhile, Minister of Internal Security Itamar Ben Gvir has been given the go-ahead to begin working on a new branch of law enforcement to be placed entirely under his control, one that is already being called “Ben Gvir’s private militia.” It too, will focus on crime in the Palestinian sector.
I don’t claim to have the answers to dealing with organized crime and illegal weapon ownership in the Palestinian sector. Israel Hayom reported last year that the seizure of military-grade weapons — stolen from the IDF, law enforcement and security — was on the rise, including submachine guns, rifles and pistols. I have not noticed any new legislation increasing the punishment for selling weapons illegally from these sources. I do know the police, under the previous minister, had developed a plan to deal with illegal weapons, and that it included seizures at the border and working on a number of levels to arrest members of the organizations themselves.
I have not noticed any new legislation increasing the punishment for selling weapons illegally from these sources.
I’m wondering, aloud, to what extent the new search-on-suspicion law will prove effective in dealing with illegal weapons, to what extent it will reinforce the status of Palestinian citizens of the state as second-class citizens – people with fewer rights, under the law, in our supposedly democratic country.
How many will find their human rights to privacy trampled upon in the name of seizing weapons?