Led by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Israel has launched a new campaign to improve poor relations between its national police force and Arab Israeli communities.
The campaign will include advertising on the radio and billboards using the slogan “100 percent personal safety.” The aim is to open new police stations in Arab neighborhoods and draft more Muslims into the Israeli police.
“The revolution that we are advancing to improve police services in the Arab sector is at its height,” Erdan said. “There are more Arab policemen, stations are being set up in [Arab populated] cities and, now, messages and songs in Arabic address youth of the sector and call on them to participate. This is a social revolution that will better connect the Arab citizens of Israel to Israeli society and the state.”
Included in the campaign is head of Arab administration in Israel police, Jamal Hakroush, who is calling on Arab youth to join the police. Israel’s Arab population is 20 percent but is underrepresented on the police force, especially Muslims.
Erdan will meet with regional police commanders and Arab local council heads to find a joint approach with the Arab public in order to achieve the campaign goals.
The reality is that many Arab communities are plagued by widespread gun crime resulting in several dozen fatalities so far this year, with Nadia Baransy the 37th Arab victim last week. Guns are often fired in celebration at Arab weddings, but the bigger problem lies with weapon possession by criminal gangs that roam some Arab neighborhoods with little restriction.
Reda Jabar, director of Aman, the Arab Center for a Safe Society, spoke this week in response to Baransy’s death of “primitive behaviors, the kind that take lives,” and of “a broader problem of rising violence in Arab society.”
The campaign is not without its critics. Controversial Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi, known for her anti-Israel stance, spoke of the need for a war against organized crime and for collecting weapons.
“The police force loses no opportunity to prove how little interest it has in lowering crime rates,” she said. “It’s interested in nurturing ‘relations’ with ‘loyal representatives,’ because it sees its responsibility as controlling Arab society. It wants to control its subjects, not provide them with security.”
Other Arab Knesset members echoed Zoabi.
“This campaign is a mockery and destined to fail because the police force’s true face is known to the Arab community from up close, and 1,000 billboards won’t change its hostile image,” Yousef Jabareen said. “The police’s test will be in changing its policy of treating Arab citizens as enemies.”
Since 2000, 48 Arab Israelis have been killed by police and there has been some criticism of poor policing in Arab neighborhoods by some Knesset members and mayors. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics stated that 69 percent of Arab citizens had a negative view of the police in a September 2016 report.
Erdan counters criticism by arguing that improvements are already occurring and that so far this year a particularly high 8 percent of police recruits were Muslim. He says the campaign is about building trust and is the beginning of a long-term solution to address nearly 70 years of neglect.
“Blessed are the peace makers.”