Deputy police minister announces joint task force to fight Arab crime

Amid surging body count, PM Bennett orders two Border Police battalions to patrol southern Israel; Arab MKs skeptical: ‘We don’t want plans on paper’

Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz meets with parliamentarians on October 20, 2021, to discuss plans to end the crime wave in Arab communities (Knesset Spokesperson/ Noam Moscovitz)
Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz meets with parliamentarians on October 20, 2021, to discuss plans to end the crime wave in Arab communities (Knesset Spokesperson/ Noam Moscovitz)

Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz announced on Tuesday that a special task force of senior law enforcement officials had been formed to crack down on surging crime in Israel’s Arab community.

“We’re several years behind on this. If we were in a routine situation, we would act differently — but we’re in a state of emergency,” Segalovitz told the Knesset’s Public Security Committee in a hearing.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also ordered two battalions of Border Police to crack down on Arab crime in southern Israel on Tuesday. The unit mostly serves in the West Bank and East Jerusalem against Palestinians, although it has occasionally been deployed within Israel’s borders.

“Two regular Border Police companies will be moved to southern Israel in order to shift experienced forces to aid in the fight against crime among Arab communities,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

According to the plan, clusters of senior representatives of law enforcement agencies — including the Tax Authority, the State Attorney’s Office, police, and others — will meet on a weekly basis in an effort to join forces against the phenomenon.

Segalovitz also promised that the government would work to crack down on the flow of easy loans backed by criminal organizations. As Arab Israelis face major obstacles to receiving credit from banks, many turn to organized crime rackets. The loans are a key source of funding for the violent syndicates.

Segalovitz presented the plan as the crime wave in Arab communities reaches new heights. Arab Israelis, who have seen over 100 homicides in their community since the start of the year, woke up on Wednesday to headlines of another shooting death in Umm al-Fahm.

The scene where a man was shot in Umm al-Fahm, October 19, 2021. (Israel Police)

Violence in Arab cities and towns has been rising for years as organized criminal gangs have increasingly taken over the public sphere. Arab Israelis accuse the police of turning a blind eye to criminal activity that targets Arabs, while police have blamed Arabs for refusing to cooperate with investigations.

The new government, led by Bennett, has vowed to end the crime wave. Around NIS 2.4 billion (upwards of $746 million) will be allocated to the fight against violence and crime in Arab communities in the coming budget, which is scheduled to be passed in November.

Segalovitz acknowledged that the plan was unlikely to end the phenomenon in the short run, although he promised some immediate results within six months.

“We’re not expecting the world to turn right-side-up in six months, but we can restrain the out-of-control [violence],” said Segalovitz, a former senior Israel Police officer.

In the early 2000s, when Jewish criminal organizations operated in Jewish Israeli cities, similar joint investigations by law enforcement successfully cracked down on the phenomenon. By the end of the decade, most Jewish crime lords were in prison or in exile.

However, others have expressed skepticism that the plans would bring results. Previous government promises — made under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — failed to make a significant dent in the violence.

“We don’t want plans on paper. We want a committed battle against these criminal organizations,” Ta’al MK Osama Sa’adi said during Wednesday’s hearing.

Osama Sa’adi attends a Knesset Public Security Committee discussion on October 20, 2021. (Knesset Spokesperson/ Noam Moscowitz)

Sa’adi emphasized that he strongly opposed some of the measures proposed by Segalovitch, such as expanding the ability of police to conduct warrantless searches and involving the Shin Bet security service. Both plans have stirred controversy among rights groups, who worry that the moves will lead to violations of civil liberties.

Segalovitz sought to allay Sa’adi’s concerns: “All of the government ministries are being drafted into this…We’re in an operation involving the whole government. No previous government did that.”

Arguments also burst out between some hard-right Jewish representatives and Arab parliamentarians — most of whom arrived late to the discussion — during the course of the hearing. The furious debate, which included insults and yelling, had little to do with the actual plan.

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