June 1, 2018

High Violent Crime Rates Top Arab Community Concerns in Israel

The issue of crime and violence within Arab society in Israel has become a top Arab and Jewish public and government concern in recent years. In 2017 alone, the lives of 70 Arab citizens were claimed by murder and manslaughter – accounting for over 55% of such instances in Israel that year, with another 23 Arabs killed since the beginning of 2018. Moreover, police reports indicate that the hundreds of thousands of illegal weapons found in Arab towns comprise approximately 80% of illegal firearms in Israel.

A study by the Knesset Research Center (February 2018) of crimes during the years 2014-2016 indicates that during these years the number of Arab murder victims per 100,000 people was over 5 times greater in Arab society than in Jewish society, and over half of attempted murder victims were Arab. Similar numbers appear in other violent crimes such as assault and grievous bodily harm.

The scale of violence and related concerns over adequate law enforcement and police services are repeatedly cited as a primary concern of the Arab public by Arab and Jewish leadership. According to a 2017 poll, violent crime is a greater concern than discrimination, jobs and economic development, or Palestinian issues.

The issue of violence within Arab society underscores the longstanding tensions and mistrust between Israel’s police and Arab citizens. While the police in Israel have been accusing Arab society of lack of cooperation, Arab leaders attribute the rise in crime to decades of neglect and inadequate services. In recent years efforts have been made both by government authorities to give greater priority and resources to enhancing the personal security of Arab citizens, and by Arab leadership to advance discourse within Arab society and vis-à-vis the police to promote greater cooperation on these issues. Yet, as the numbers indicate, violence continues to escalate.

An Abraham Fund Initiatives (TAFI) report on the issue from May 2018, Personal Security Index: Violence Crime and Policing in Arab Communities, largely attributes escalated violence to a combination of “inadequate police presence in Arab communities,” and the weak socio-economic status of Arab municipalities – including high unemployment and poverty rates, lack of adequate governmental services, and the rapid societal change Arab society is going through “from tradition to modernity.”

TAFI’s June 2018 position paper on police violence against Arab citizens of Israel characterizes policing in the Arab society as “unique to the police’s relationship to the Arab minority,” and notes that police conduct during protests held by Arab citizens have been met with violence by  Israeli police which “contributes to the deep mistrust between Arab society and the Israeli police,” and prevents police form effectively acting against violence within Arab communities.

A survey conducted as part of the TAFI report found extreme discrepancies in Jewish and Arab communities on issues such as illegal firearms, domestic violence, drug-use, and lack of reliance on police indicating that, by a landslide, these are more worrying and widespread within Arab communities. For instance, 54% of Arabs felt violence is an issue in their place of residence versus 4% of Jews, and 32% felt unsafe compared to 13% of Jewish counterparts.

The report stated that tension between police and Arab citizens increased in the past year primarily due to three instances of Arab citizens killed at the hands of police in in 2017, and the demolition of illegal buildings in Qalansuwa. Israel’s police force has also been widely criticized for neglecting formal complaints by Arab citizens, with Arab Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen citing Umm al-Fahm as an example where over 520 investigation files opened since 2015 yielded only six indictments. The report stresses that effective solutions require cooperation and mutual trust between Israeli enforcement agencies and Arab citizens.

Encouragingly, the survey also showed that the majority of Arabs are prepared to help eradicate violence. Despite indications of significant mistrust and dissatisfaction with police, the vast majority of Arabs still supported the opening of police stations in their place of residence, were willing to report crimes and offenses, and supported the integration of Arabs into the police force (over 70% in each category).

TAFI’s report also noted significant government interventions on the issue, including investment in economic development of Arab citizens through Government Resolution 922, adopted in 2015, and in the personal security of Arab citizens through Government Resolution 1402 adopted in 2016. Through these allocated resources and implementations, the number of police officers in Arab communities has increased; support systems have been established to integrate Arab men and women into police service; the North Start project to improve police services in northern Arab communities was established; implementation of the Emun (Trust) program started – a management strategy that requires the police to focus time and resources on the problems that bother normative citizens in each community; two new police stations opened (in Jiser A-Zarka and Kfar Kana) and the Ministry of Public Security plans to open 10 additional police stations in Arab towns and upgrade existing ones by 2020; police capacity to use Arab social media has increased; and more.

Recently, Arab local and national leadership has taken a more proactive, assertive approach toward eliminating violence in Arab society. In May 2018, conferences and protests against police’s treatment of violence in the Arab society were held in cities including Tira, Umm al-Fahm, Baqa al-Gharbiyye, and Haifa, with cooperation between local municipalities, religious leadership, the High Follow Up Committee of Arab Citizens in Israel, and the Arab Knesset party the Joint List. These included a convoy from Um al-Fahm to the Prime-Minister’s Office in Jerusalem with the participation of Arab MKs.

These activities have called for more effective and egalitarian police interventions as well as long-term processes to effect change and raise awareness within Arab communities themselves. In early May, Chair of the Joint Arab List, MK Ayman Odeh dedicated a Knesset discussion to violence in Arab society, promising that over half of his time and the Party’s activity will now be invested in the issue. He later announced that his request that the Knesset holds a special session dedicated entirely to the issue was accepted by Speaker of the Knesset, Mk Yuli-Yoel Edelstein (Likud).


Recommended Resources
2018 Personal Security Index: Violence, Crime and Policing in Arab Towns

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