Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vows to end the ongoing crime wave in Arab communities at a ceremony inaugurating a unit dedicated to “restoring safety to Arab streets.”
“Arab society today constitutes 20% of the population in Israel and 60% of the crime. This situation, this neglect, is intolerable and we will put an end to it,” says Bennett, after examining a table of illegal weaponry seized in a recent police raid.
In recent years, Arab Israelis have seen rising rates of violence in their communities. The new government has vowed to end the bloodshed, which officials say is fueled by organized crime.
“Today, we are establishing a dedicated division, the Seif division, whose guiding purpose is to thwart crime in Arab Israeli communities and to restore security to the streets,” says Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtay.
According to Shabtay, the unit is already concluding its first operation to crack down on the spread of illegal weapons in the Arab community. Around 1,000 officers participated and some 41 suspects have been arrested, although Shabtay does not say how many guns were confiscated.
Israeli police have launched gun collection operations before, but none have managed to dent the deadly arms trade. According to a 2020 Knesset report, some 400,000 illegal weapons are circulating in Israel, and the vast majority are in Arab communities.
The Seif division appears to be an expansion of an earlier unit established to improve policing in the Arab sector. That unit, established in 2017, had little actual policing power; its primary purpose was to mediate between Arab communities and police, as well as conduct public awareness campaigns about “the importance of law and order.”
It is not immediately clear how the revamped Seif unit differs from its predecessor. But the Abraham Initiatives, an organization that works on improving Arab-police relations, expresses cautious optimism.
“The establishment of Seif in the presence of the prime minister, the public security minister, and senior police officers carries important symbolic value,” says the organization in a statement.