As Arab leaders slam police ‘neglect,’ officers report fear for their own safety

While political leaders blame each other for failure to rein in deadly violence in Arab Israeli towns, law enforcement agencies call for more manpower, harsher prosecution

Israeli Arabs protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings in their communities in the town of Majd al-Krum, northen Israel, October 3, 2019. (David Cohen/FLASH90)
Israeli Arabs protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings in their communities in the town of Majd al-Krum, northen Israel, October 3, 2019. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

With Arab Israeli political leaders and civic groups pushing for ever-larger protests and slamming government inaction on violence in their communities, senior officers and internal reports in the Israel Police offer a window into the predicament faced by officers on the ground in Arab towns.

One recent internal report cited by Channel 12 on Saturday night said officers routinely found themselves in danger from organized anti-police violence in Arab towns — from angry mobs to shootings directed at police stations — including in cases when they are responding to locals’ calls for help.

The report demands a new “harsh and strict” prosecution policy for those who attack cops, and shows the extent of the worry police departments have for officers sent into Arab communities.

The report comes as the top Arab lawmaker in the Knesset, Joint List MK Ayman Odeh, called the police “racist” for what he has described as ongoing neglect of violence in the Arab community.

The police report revealed by Channel 12 was an internal inquiry into an incident last month in which a suspect managed to escape police custody in the Wadi Ara area despite officers’ efforts to give chase. The suspect was helped by locals, and the officers who tried to stop the escape put themselves at real risk, the report noted. It ruled against disciplinary action against the officers, citing the danger in which they found themselves.

It then went further, pointing to “an escalation in [violence] directed at police in the field” in Arab towns.

Israeli Arabs protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings in their communities in the town of Majd al-Krum, northen Israel, October 3, 2019. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

One senior police official wrote in the report that it “should be distributed among the [police] stations in the [Arab] community, though I’m doubtful we have anything new to say.”

One of the highest values of the police, the officer, whose name was not given in the television report, noted, was “to ensure officers return home safely.”

And he concluded: “If there isn’t a clear, present and immediate need to save lives, there is no cause for getting hurt.”

The report also cited previous recent incidents in which police encountered focused, planned or overwhelming violence in Arab towns, including a September case in which cops responding to a call in Umm al-Fahm faced a group of protesters in the streets shouting, “You won’t get out of here alive.”

Other incidents noted in the report: a cop was shot after responding to a call in Iron in Wadi Ara in late 2018, though his life was saved by the bullet-proof vest he wore on assignment in the town; a shooting attack at the police station in Jisr a-Zarka; and a rise in arson attacks on police cruisers, “most of them in cases where police were called out to help local residents.”

The report demands a “harsh and strict prosecution policy for incidents of attacks on police officers and damage to police property, with an emphasis on vehicles.”

Police man a checkpoint in the northern Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm after a teacher is kidnapped from a local high school by armed assailants, December 12, 2018. (Hadashot screen capture)

Criticizing police inaction isn’t enough, insisted one retired police commander in Arab-majority areas.

“There are more indictments, more firearms confiscations, there are more cases being opened and more police presence, but it’s still a drop in the ocean,” Commander Eli Krispil, the former head of the Iron and Nazareth police departments, told the television channel.

“If you as a cop come to help, and you suddenly face fireworks and stones and they set your cruiser on fire, then you face a tough call. You came to help, and you’re attacked and harassed.”

He added: “I hear from friends that police don’t care about violence” in the Arab community. “That’s not true. The head of the Shfaram or Nazareth stations — he cares less [than other police commanders] that there’s a murder? No. He doesn’t sleep nights. Murder is murder.”

Other internal police documents cited in the report reveal a recent call by a senior officer to bolster two-man patrols with a third officer in every cruiser. Meanwhile, the Israel Police’s top internal inquiries official, Superintendent Haim Moshe, called in recent weeks for all command staff in every district to consider the new calls for bolstered manpower and a more severe prosecution policy.

In its response to the report, the Israel Police rejected the claim that officers were afraid to tackle violent crime in Arab towns.

Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi attend a protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings in the Arab communities, Majd al-Krum, October 3, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

“Contrary to the claims in the [Channel 12] report, the police act fearlessly and with determination against the violence in the Arab community, as thousands of arrests, indictments, the capture of thousands of weapons and the recent solving of dozens of murders bear witness.”

But, the statement added, “The struggle against violence is not the province of the police alone, and only a deeper change from within Arab society will deliver the sought-after change.”

The latest report came as political leaders traded accusations over the weekend over who is responsible for the violence.

“The police do nothing because it’s a racist force,” Odeh insisted in an interview with Meet the Press on Saturday night.

He argued that much of the crime wave was produced by organized crime, and so was beyond the ability of ordinary citizens to combat. It was the police that would have to step in to fight the “criminal gangs,” confiscate their illegal weapons, which he said were stolen from IDF bases, and stop their protection rackets.

Those crime organizations “have to be smashed. Nothing good can come of those guns,” he said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks during a ceremony for the outgoing Jerusalem police chief at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on February 7, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Asked about right-wing lawmakers’ claims that Arab politicians were actively inciting Arab communities against the police and hindering efforts to open new stations and recruit locals into the force, Odeh called the claims “a blatant lie.”

Shortly after the interview, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who oversees the police, charged that Odeh was “continuing his habit of lying and inciting against the police, so that no one asks him why he is trying to prevent the police from entering the Arab community and Arab towns.”

Erdan lamented on Twitter that “Odeh wasn’t asked directly if he supports establishing police stations in Arab towns and enlisting Arab youth to the police.”

He also rejected Odeh’s characterization of the violence as primarily caused by organized crime.

“Many murders in the community have nothing to do with crime organizations, but to a generally high level of violence that includes resort to guns in financial and other disputes, unfortunately,” Erdan said.

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