To begin with, a brief introduction on the subject of policing of Arab citizens and why this issue is important to our organization the Abraham Initiatives:
The issue of policing and minorities is a sensitive one in most countries around the world.
The sensitivity is due to the fact that, in many cases, the police is perceived (by both the majority and minorities) as a body that serves the majority population and its interests and does not treat everyone equally. In other words, in contrast to the basic ethos of a public service – “a citizen is a citizen, and all citizens deserve equal service” – the police are not “color-blind” and behave differently towards different groups.
In Israel, the events of October 2000 showed very clearly how serious this tension can be. Twelve Arab citizens (it must be emphasized – citizens) were shot and killed by the police during demonstrations and riots. Everyone recognizes that this disaster would not have happened if the riots had involved Jewish citizens.
The Orr Commission correctly and unambiguously noted that there is an ingrained perception of enmity towards Arab citizens. In other words, the police perceive Arab citizens more as an enemy to be confronted than as citizens to be served and defended.
Against this background, after the events of October 2000, the Abraham Initiatives began to work to build relations of dialogue and coordination between the police and Arab society. We studied patterns of policing in conflicted societies with similar characteristics to those in Israel (particularly Northern Ireland, but also France) and we sought to introduce some of these practices in Israel. We acknowledge that no society can exist without police services, but these services must be beneficial and fair.
Over the years that followed, with the full approval and cooperation of the police and the Ministry of Public Security, we carried out dozens of trainings for police personnel with the goal of raising awareness of the special challenges of policing a minority and how to address these challenges effectively.
Policing the Arab public entails two key challenges:
The first challenge: The dual role of the Israel Police towards Arab citizens
While for Jews the police function in areas of crime and criminality, towards Arab citizens, they are a security entity.
It is important to understand the inherent contradiction between these two roles. The first focuses on protecting and defending citizens against criminal elements. The second defines the Arab minority as a security threat. So the same police officer is expected to defend and serve a citizen who at the same time is regarded as a security threat. These two functions are completely contradictory, and this prevents the police from fulfilling its primary duty: to defend and protect citizens.
To put it another way: the enforcement component of policework is far more dominant than the service component when it comes to Arab society.
The second challenge: Over-policing and under-policing
The approach of the police toward Arab citizens is characterized by two phenomena that exist simultaneously: over-policing and under-policing.
- A lack of police stations in Arab communities
- Understaffing at police stations
- Poor response to calls and complaints (disregard, arriving late, etc.)
- Low investment in investigations and solving crime
- Low investment in solving problems of violence and crime in the community (domestic violence, drugs, brawls)
- Disproportionate use of violence (including lethal violence) in the police-civilian encounter
- Employing violence and aggressive policing in incidents with a national aspect and public order dimension and during demonstrations
- The use of quasi-military tactics (Umm al-Hiran was the classic example of this) executed by special units (Special Patrol Unit, Border Police, Yoav, etc.).
- Heightened use of ethnic profiling in arrests and investigations
- Collective punishment, including the use of roadblocks, mass issuing of fines, etc.
All these practices are still in use.
To summarize, it is important to state the obvious: even the best police force in the world requires trust and cooperation from the public in order to fulfill its role.
In Israel, this trust is limited due to the challenges discussed above. Accordingly, any genuine effort to improve policing, governance, and enforcement toward and for Arab society must include strengthening dialogue and trust building with the police.
The National Guard is supposed to respond to several problems: tensions between Jews and Arabs in the mixed cities, crime in the Negev, and organized crime and violence in Arab society. The National Guard is not the solution to any of these problems, for the following reasons:
- Responses to these challenges already exist:
The existing response to tension between Jews and Arabs in mixed cities is to narrow the gaps between different populations in the city, in accordance with the recommendation of the State Comptroller’s report published in July 2022, including employing Arabs at all levels of the municipal system. The police presence in these cities should be reinforced and efforts made to improve trust between Arab residents and the police and maintain a police presence in Arab neighborhoods, alongside improvements to infrastructure and enhancing the police’s preparedness to respond to emergencies.
Crime in the Negev is addressed by regular police forces and by dedicated units, such as Yoav, Magen, and the ATV unit. We also refer to the comments by Deputy Commissioner Peretz Amar, former Commander of the Southern District Police, made during a visit to the Negev by the Public Security Committee on June 1, 2023: “The [Arab] sector is mostly normative and should be provided with all infrastructures… Governance rests not only with the police, but with all the enforcement agencies and government ministries, for which we provide assistance.” In other words, house demolitions should be stopped and existing communities should receive approval, including development plans, a community police presence, education, welfare, and other underlying aspects that will help reduce crime.
The Israel Police is also equipped to respond to organized crime, as it confronted Jewish criminal organizations in the past. A quasi-military cannot fight organized crime. The bodies capable of taking on this task are ones that have a well-developed service dimension and work in cooperation with the community. Trust is the key in this struggle.
Violence in Arab society is one of the main problems the National Guard must confront. In this context, it is important to examine the latest statistics. The key to solving the problem lies in implementing Decision 549 concerning the war on crime, including strengthening the police and investing in education and welfare. In addition, the “Safe Track” program should be reinstated; this initiative brought together all the relevant governmental bodies for joint and intensive work through weekly meetings and regular communication. The program used all the means available to the government, including the police with its current resources and format, and proved that a determined struggle can yield results. Before anything else, what is needed is a serious and honest government decision.
In general, strengthening governance requires a significant police presence. This may be achieved by establishing police stations in Arab communities and strengthening the existing stations in terms of personnel, means, and 24/7 staffing, as well as by reinforcing community policing, substantial cooperation between mayors and police station commanders, and cooperation between senior public figures in Arab society and senior police officers.
- The National Guard will impair policing toward Arab citizens and erode mutual trust. There is room for concern that in this new body, the enforcement aspect of the activation of force will be far more dominant than the service aspect. To maintain public order, there is a need for a body whose service component is at least as strong and significant as its enforcement component. In this sense, the police is a professional body within which every police officer is familiar with the law and with the powers granted by his or her position. This is how it should be.
The Orr Commission already noted that “the police must instill among its officers the understanding that the Arab public as a whole is not their enemy and is not to be treated as an enemy.” A quasi-military body operating against citizens will be perceived as a distinct and separate police force for Arabs, damaging still further the trust among Arab citizens. This situation is liable to lead to an escalation in the contacts between police officers and Arab citizens, particularly in emergencies. Moreover, the perception of the National Guard as a separate police force for Arabs is liable to exacerbate the unequal enforcement that already exists. Such a body, whose main method of operation will be over-policing, is liable to be abused to apply police harassment against Arabs.
- The risk of improper political use of a policing body. There is a risk that the relevant minister will use the National Guard under their authority improperly to promote their ideological agenda. Accordingly, it is important to maintain a hermetic separation between the elected echelon, which should delineate general policy, and the executive echelon, which makes operational decisions according to professional considerations.
Photo credit: Protest against the national guard. Or Perbosnik \ Shatil Stock