Zehava Galon

The corrosive impact of treating Arab Israeli crime as ‘terror’

The government is pushing for a regime of Jewish supremacy with two legal systems, divided according to ethnicity. It won't work
Police at the scene of a double homicide in the Arab town of Jisr az Zarqa, July 21, 2023. (Israel Police)
Police at the scene of a double homicide in the Arab town of Jisr az Zarqa, July 21, 2023. (Israel Police)

As I write these lines, 147 Arab men and women have been murdered in Israel since the beginning of this year (hoping that by the time this is published, we will not witness any more murders). In the year 2022, there were a total of 116 casualties due to crime and violence in the Arab community.

The prime minister, the minister of national security, the police commissioner, and the police are dealing with this unfathomable number of killings – and with their direct responsibility for them – through a security discourse that embodies the concept that Palestinian citizens of Israel are the enemy. Below is a short selection of phrasing from the last few weeks:

  • this is a “war on terror”;
  • this is an “operation to eradicate crime”;
  • an “intifada within Israel”;
  • and an “enemy from within.”

These kinds of statements are intended to justify their racist tactics for dealing with crime in Arab Israeli communities, including the intervention of the Shin Bet security services and the use of administrative detention.

The Monitoring Committee for Arab Public Affairs in Israel initiated protest marches throughout the country, sent convoys of vehicles to Jerusalem from various locations, and set up a protest tent in front of the Prime Minister’s Office to protest that “the government is not lifting a finger to stop the violence in Arab society and has abandoned the tackling of crime.”

The Arab members of the Knesset have been speaking out for more than a decade against the flood of weapons flowing into Arab communities, the increasing crime rate leading to the high murder rate, the consistent failure of the police to solve these crimes, and the fact that instead of caring for their safety, the police act against them, treating them as a security body.

Instead of engaging in law enforcement, the authorities go into a state of war. These are undemocratic and discriminatory moves that treat the Arab citizens as a collective threat. The Shin Bet is a security organization whose mission is to thwart terrorist attacks, and the methods it uses are not suitable for investigating crimes among civilians. The authority that the minister of national security seeks for himself to use the practice of administrative detentions for vague reasons of “public security” will allow him to bypass proper criminal procedure, and will be a violation of human rights and the basic principles of a democratic state. The government is now proposing the application of methods against Israeli citizens that the state has been using in the territories for 56 years. It is hard to imagine a more dangerous approach – one with the potential to drag us into a civil war.

Why are we surprised? Only about two years ago, the Northern Command deployed armored personnel carriers in Umm al-Fahm and the settlements of Wadi Ara under the pretext that the alleys there are “reminiscent of southern Lebanon.” The IDF would never plan and carry out such a maneuver in a Jewish settlement because they would not dare frighten Jewish residents like that. The IDF trained in Umm al-Fahm just as it regularly trains in the West Bank settlements. The residents are extras at best.

Over decades of institutionalized discrimination and no less institutionalized incitement, the governments of Israel have treated the Palestinian citizens of Israel as the enemy, and crime in the Arab sector as terrorism. The Committee to Fight Arab Crime established by the government includes only one Arab representative. Instead of formulating a serious enforcement plan, they appointed the minister’s yes-man as a project manager for the fight against crime, and recommended issuing administrative detention warrants for Arab citizens and searching their homes without a warrant, and deploying the Shin Bet to act in the Arab sector – measures that the Shin Bet and the IDF use in the West Bank every day. The words of the Minister of National Security in the Knesset National Security Committee that “if there are military forces in Tuba Zangaria, Ar’ara, and Rahat, our children in Beersheva will have much more peace,” reveal the strategy that guides him: it’s a strategy to return the Arab citizens to military rule.

The Palestinian citizens of the state, who were held by the young State of Israel under a military regime for nearly 19 years, knew the security forces of the state mainly as an enemy force. Land Day marks the massacre of Arab civilians, and the deadly events of October 2000 are still an open wound. And in the background hovers the Nakba (the “Tragedy”). Arab citizens fear the precedent and people like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich repeatedly remind them that their citizenship is a temporary, conditional situation.

Furthermore, Arab society in Israel suffers from longstanding systemic neglect by the state, which endeavored to seize as much of the Arabs’ land as possible while at the same time preventing them from any development on their remaining land. The number of new villages or towns that Israel has built for its Arab citizens is zero, and it consistently prevents the passage of zoning plans to expand the existing settlements. It also does not allow Arab municipalities to establish development zones that incentivize economic growth, as is done in the Jewish sector. The result is the impoverishment of Arab residents imposed from above. And poverty breeds crime.

The manipulative use of security terminology when dealing with the Palestinian citizens of Israel is intended to reduce the opposition to human rights violations against citizens when fighting crime in the Arab sector. The police knew how to deal with criminal organizations in Jewish society with the tools that were at their disposal. There is no reason they should not know how to deal with criminal organizations in Arab communities.

But the government’s goal is not to enforce the law, but to prepare the infrastructure to support a regime of Jewish supremacy that allows two separate legal systems to operate within the borders of the State of Israel itself on the basis of ethnic separation, one for the Jews and one for the rest of the Israelis.

Arab society in Israel is an inseparable part of us. Living together is not one option among many — it is the only possible way of life here. The use of security language reflects the actual attitude of the state towards the Palestinian citizens of the state, who continue to pay with their lives. Our future is shared, but true sharing requires effort, honesty and attentiveness, and above all an understanding on the part of the government that human rights are indivisible.

With translation from the Hebrew by Ella Gera

About the Author
Zehava Galon is the former head of the Meretz party and served as a member of Knesset for 16 years. She is founder and president of the new Israeli NGO, Zulat.
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