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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Eradicating the violence in the Arab sector

Almost daily we hear news – almost invariably negative news – about Israel’s Arab population, and sayings to the effect that something ought to be done about the situation. However, as in the case of the famous 19th century saying that “everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” so in this case for the time being very little seems to actually be done about it except for endless, 
usually useless chatter.

The news is really awful: some 100 Arab-Israelis deliberately murdered or accidentally killed by Israeli Arabs since the beginning of 2021; Arab crime families demanding protection money to protect businesses, farms and other premises all around the country from acts of crime, most of which they themselves perpetrate; tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) of illegally held weapons in the Arab sector, some of them actually stolen from poorly guarded IDF camps in the south; Arab youths behaving on the roads of the Negev as if it were the Wild West, and fearlessly harassing and attacking young Jewish women walking on their own on the streets of Beersheba, and surrounding Jewish towns and settlements.

One doesn’t have to be an expert to understand that all of this does not have a single cause and that there is no single solution to it. At the base of the treatment of the problem, there must be a real desire and determination to start resolving the mess, the actual allocation of large designated budgets and manpower for the assignment and an understanding that the Arab population and authorities must be actively involved in the process, as far as feasible.

Among the issues that must be addressed are the eradication, or at least weakening of the Arab crime families and organizations; a solution of the phenomenon of the unrecognized, and subsequently uncontrolled Bedouin settlements in the Negev; the allocation of large budgets to strengthen the weaker parts of Arab society, and its civil institutions; and a more serious effort than is currently being made to collect illegally held weapons in the Arab sector.

Last week it was announced that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will stand at the head of a designated team of ministers trying to combat the violence in Arab society. The team, which is to include representatives of the Interior Ministry, Finance Ministry and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), was to have met for the first time yesterday. Simultaneously, Bennett appointed Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz (Yesh Atid) to serve as the project’s manager, coordinating the Government’s contention with the problem of violence and crime in Arab society.

‘Darkenu’ activists protest the surge in Arab crime leading in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Tel Aviv during the #Arab_Lives_Matter movement, September 22, 2021 (credit: DARKENU)

If those who follow the news religiously have the feeling of déjà vu, that is because exactly eight months ago, a month before the fourth round of elections in two years, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced, together with then-public security minister Amir Ohana, that he was planning to establish a ministerial committee for the Arab sector, which he would head, in which NIS 15 billion would be invested, and which would “make a real revolution in Arab society.”

The immediate plan was to “collect arms from the Arab settlements, invest NIS 100 million in constructing new police and firefighting stations, the establishment of welfare institutions, the establishment of a team headed by the National Security Council to prevent the leakage of weapons, implementation of a plan to prevent violence in the family in the Arab sector, etc.” The project manager, Netanyahu added, was to be retired deputy police commissioner Aharon Franko, who had served in the past as commander of the Jerusalem District.

Nothing ever came of this election promise, which had been designed to convince Arab voters to vote for the Likud. Netanyahu did not manage to form a government after the elections, and even if he had, it isn’t certain whether he would have kept his promise.

The current initiative results from a serious concern about the major increase in the violence and level of crime in the Arab society (currently almost half the Israeli prisoners are Israeli Arabs, even though the Israeli Arabs constitute around 20% of the total population). The coalition agreement which the current government signed with Ra’am (United Arab List) – the first Arab party to join an Israeli coalition – mentions the need to act against the violence and lawlessness in the Arab society.

What raises hopes that in this round something will actually be done about the unbearable situation is the fact that the new project manager, Segalovitz – a retired Police deputy commissioner, who served in his last job in the Police as commander of the Investigations and Intelligence Division – views the problem of violence in Arab society as a personal project. In the 23rd Knesset he headed two MKs’ lobbies: one that dealt with political corruption, and the second with violence in the Arab sector. He strongly believes that in order to deal with this problem, it is of primary importance to try to destroy the economic infrastructure of organized crime, and to prevent the criminals from serving as role models in Arab society, and not to concentrate only on more visible policing activities.

Of course, it is not enough that there is a suitable project manager in charge. Without sufficient funding, and without sufficient designated manpower there will be no results. Whether it is desirable to have the GSS directly involved in the project is also a question that will have to be seriously addressed, both because the Arab citizens are wary of it and because it is known to have working contacts with the Arab crime families.

Finally, the project’s success is important not only for peace and quiet inside the country, but also for the continued integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into Israeli society, which even today – 73 years after the establishment of the State – cannot be taken for granted.

The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job, soon to be published in English by Routledge.

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