Exacerbated crime and violence alongside weakening governance among Arab society in Israel:
10 recommendations for the Israeli government
By Dr. Michael Milshtein | February 12, 2021
|Photos: Moataz1997 | CC BY-SA 3.0|
Crime and violence in Israeli Arab society is gradually increasing, becoming a strategic challenge manifest on several levels: governmental, political, socio-economic, and security. For some time now, this issue is no longer merely criminal, but characterized by incremental weakening of regime governance in Arab society.
This state of affairs causes agitation and unrest among the Arab public, deepening its resentment toward the State of Israel. Over time, more severe phenomena could develop: from a large-scale wave of popular protest leading to friction with law enforcement forces and separatism by the Arab public (a symbolic expression of which was the Arab city mayors' threat two weeks ago to resign in the absence of solutions for their problems); through setting up independent groups within Arab society that would attempt to address crime generators, inter alia using violence; to extreme factors who may use the large quantities of weapons (between four and five hundred thousand) currently held by Arab society to carry out terror attacks.
To end this exacerbating challenge, the Israeli government is advised to take strategic action based on the following ten steps that should be advanced immediately:
- Immediate "lowering of the flames" in Arab society: It is crucial to begin by taking some steps that would focus on the key generators of crime and violence in Arab society. These would initially reduce the scope of the problem, while injecting trust and optimism into the Arab public. Emphasis should be placed on addressing crime families in Arab society according to the model successfully implemented in Jewish Israeli society back in 2005; promoting extensive weapon collection operations in Arab villages; and increasing law enforcement forces in key areas where governance has weakened recently, particularly due to struggles between clans (several successful steps have been taken in this direction in recent weeks in some key hubs in northern Israel, and should be expanded to other areas too, especially the Negev).
- Setting up a designated directorate to address crime and violence in Arab society: Crime and violence in Arab society originate from a wide range of reasons. A multidimensional response is therefore crucial, and must also include law enforcement steps alongside efforts in areas such as welfare and education. A suitable organizational institution is required, at the center of which is a designated directorate, operating under the Prime Minister's Office, and tasked with coordinating between the various bodies operating under the supreme goal of ending crime and violence in Arab society, forming the strategic action plan to address this issue, and conducting ongoing control as well as lesson-learning. The directorate must work closely with the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab Sector, which is also under the Prime Minister's Office, and be involved in all multiannual plans designated for the Arab society, primarily Plan 922 for economic development of the Arab public.
- Special focus on the younger generation's distress: Large parts of the younger generation in Arab society suffers from profound distress and a sense of detachment, and many are therefore channeled to crime. Any government plan for countering crime and violence in Arab society must address the key needs of young Arabs in Israel, primarily: leisure activities (setting up community centers, youth movements, activity facilities in the public space etc.); vocational training (especially for youth that dropped out of the education system); promoting advocacy systems countering violence in education systems; solutions for mental distresses (clinics or hotlines for information or consultation); and, in later stages, looking into the possibility of setting up civil/community service frameworks that would give these youngsters a sense of purpose, and help them strengthen their affiliation with the State of Israel.
- Integrating the Arab public into law enforcement campaigns: The campaign against crime and violence in the Arab public must not turn into a conflict between the security establishment and crime families, while the Arab public is caught in the middle as passive bystanders waiting to be salvaged. Despite the basic difficulty encountered when attempting to recruit police officers from among the Arab public – a step that could raise the quality of policing in Arab communities – other alternatives should be examined, such as unarmed civilian patrols, increased urban supervision, and the establishment of permanent joint "emergency rooms" for local authorities and policing forces. The heads of the municipal level – a rising power in Arab society – play an important role in this context, and already serve as a key link connecting government officials and the police to the general public.
- Reshaping community-police relations in Arab society: This step goes hand in hand with integrating the Arab public into law enforcement campaigns. Under the present circumstances, effective policing steps cannot be promoted for long: the Arab public is saturated with suspicion and resentment toward the police, both because it remembers the October 2000 events, and due to the common assumption whereby the police is being excessively aggressive against the Arab public, is discriminatory, and motivated first and foremost by security considerations instead of the desire to service Arab civilians. It is therefore clear why the number of complaints made to the police by the Arab public, as well as the latter's collaboration with it during police investigations and the provision of intel is limited compared to similar rates in the Jewish public. A profound shift in the relations between the Arab public and police is required, without which no fundamental solution may be provided in the long range to counter crime and violence. In this context, public diplomacy on the role of the Israel police and its capabilities is advisable in the general public, as well as frequent encounters between locals and policing forces.
- Solving the credit issue in Arab society: The expanding grey market is one of the main sources of exacerbated violence in Arab society in recent years. Many Arab civilians require the services of the grey market due to the stringent and limiting policy adopted by most Israeli banks with regard to providing credit to Arab citizens. Thus, many of them turn to the grey market, thereby feeding and strengthening criminal organizations in Arab society. this step will require a change in banking policy or the establishment of designated banks supported by the government that will be considerate of the financial hardship encountered by many in Israeli Arab society, and provide them credit services under improved terms.
- Legislation: In this context emerges the need to take stronger steps against: possession, sale, or illegal use of weapons; making threats against and assaulting public officials (a common issue from which employees of local authorities in Arab society are suffering); "protection" collecting; and the crimes distortedly defined as "honor killings", primarily perpetrated against women.
- Direct discourse with the Arab public: Determined steps against crime and violence generators may be welcomed initially by the Arab public, only to rapidly transform into friction against the backdrop of extensive policing activities in Arab communities, particularly if these be accompanied by civilian casualties involved in crime and violence. To reduce this expected issue, public discourse should be developed with the Arab sector, during which the implications and price of using force to counter crime and violence will be clearly stated. This step should involve interviews with senior government and police officials in the Arab Israeli media, alongside campaigns featuring public opinion shapers, senior public figures, religious leaders, and heads of local authorities (as successfully done while addressing the Coronavirus crisis).
- Coordinating with the Sulha (reconciliation) committees without turning them into the primary point of contact: Weakened governance in Arab society is turning Sulha committees, consisting primarily of heads of clans (Hammulas), tribal judges, and religious leaders, into a major conflict resolution institution in recent years in cases of disputes between criminals, families, or even ordinary civilians. Any step designed to counter crime and violence must take these organizations into account, but should not rely on them, let alone delegate any authority or responsibility that government institutions have to them. It is noteworthy, however, that many in Arab society are disinclined to approach the Sulha committees, as they are perceived as conservative and impeding the adoption of modern civil society attributes.
- Leaving the ISA (Shabak) out of it: Voices are recently being heard in Arab society calling for assigning the task of countering crime and violence in the Arab sector to the ISA. This cry for help reflects the depth of despair in the Arab public as it faces current exacerbation in this area; however, its implementation may lead to problems outweighing the advantages that may be gained by the ISA joining the campaign. Using the ISA – an expert in thwarting terror and subversion – against large groups of Israeli Arab citizens will cause numerous legal and operative issues, and is expected to be detrimental to the image of Arab society as it strives to fully integrate into Israeli society. The ISA should be excluded from addressing crime in the Arab sector just as it is excluded from engaging in countering crime in Jewish society, and its involvement limited to cases in which the line between criminal and security is crossed.
Arab society is at a historical junction. Many in it, particularly the younger generation, are undergoing constant change and express a desire to deepen their integration into all areas of Israeli society. By contrast, many Arab civilians feel rejected by Israeli society and governmental agencies, while suffering from severe distress, primarily crime and violence, that further deepen their sense of alienation with the State of Israel.
Addressing the main problem as seen by the Arab public today seriously and with determination could serve as a positive first step on the road to reshaping the charged relations between Arab citizens and the State of Israel. Fighting crime and violence in particular, and shaping the Arab citizens' relations with the government in general, will be long processes filled with crises. However, they are countless times more preferable than the current state of affairs, which, in the long range, will cause severe friction between the two societies in Israel.
 For further information on this topic, see: Deputy Commissioner (ret.) Menny Yitzhaki & Michael Milshtein, Violence and Crime in Arab society: A proposed strategic action plan addressing this challenge, the IPS website, IDC Herzliya (27 May, 2020).
 Since the Arab Society Liaison Directorate of the Israel Police was established in 2016, the number of recruited Arab police officers has risen; however, it is still low compared to their percentage of the population. By 2019, approximately 460 Muslim, Bedouin and Circassian police officers were recruited, forming some 75% of the number of Muslim police officers the Israel Police Force aimed to recruit: Nurit Yachimovich-Cohen, Data on Crime in the Arab Sector (Jerusalem: The Knesset Research and Information Center, 2020), p. 13.
Authored by Dr. Michael Milshtein, a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
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