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Police minister said seeking Shin Bet involvement to curb ethnic unrest

Arab Israeli leaders reportedly upset by plan, which would see police bolstered in Jewish-Arab cities and agents monitor social media

Israeli border police patrol the streets of the central Israeli city of Lod after riots. May 19, 2021 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Israeli border police patrol the streets of the central Israeli city of Lod after riots. May 19, 2021 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel may significantly bolster police deployments in mixed Jewish-Arab cities and task the Shin Bet domestic security agency with helping to combat ethnic violence in the country, according to a television report on Saturday.

Channel 12 news reported on what it said is a plan backed by Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (Likud) for dealing with a potential further outbreak of ethnic violence in cities with mixed Jewish and Arab populations.

The plan reportedly includes having the Shin Bet security agency carry out arrests and scan social networks for suspicious activity; adding 5,000 more police officers over the next three years; having 300 officers sent as reinforcements to police stations; and placing five Border Police companies in mixed cities.

The network, which did not cite a source, said the plan has angered Arab Israeli leaders, who are protesting the Shin Bet’s proposed involvement. They are also said to be irked they weren’t consulted on the plan.

Israeli police seen on the streets of the central Israeli city of Lod, where synagogues and cars were torched and shops were damaged by Arab residents rioting in the city. May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The report came as police have made a first arrest following the firebombing of a Jewish home in the ethnically mixed central city of Lod on Thursday night. The suspect is an Arab Israeli in his 20s, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Since the start of the 11-day war between Israel and Gaza terror groups earlier this month, violence has broken out in so-called mixed cities, with Arab and Jewish mobs targeting often defenseless passersby, picking them out based on their ethnicities.

Two people — an Arab and a Jew — have died in the violence and several others have been seriously injured. The riots have also seen massive damage to property.

On Monday, police launched Operation Law and Order and have since arrested over 350 people on suspicion of involvement in the violent clashes between Jews and Arabs earlier this month.

So far 175 indictments have been filed, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said Thursday, adding that the operation would continue in the days ahead.

Almost 2,000 suspects have been arrested since the Gaza war broke out on May 10, police said.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, right, meets with press near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on April 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A police spokesman told The New York Times Monday after the first day of the operation that 70 percent of those arrested were Arab and 30% were Jewish.

Charges have included assaulting police officers in aggravated circumstances, endangering human life on a public thoroughfare, participating in riots, throwing rocks, disorderly conduct in a public place, arson, and interfering with a police officer in the performance of his duties.

On Monday, heads of Arab municipalities met with Shabtai and complained that police were only taking action against violent crime in the Arab community because it had become a threat to the Jewish community, Haaretz reported.

Criticism also came from MK Aida Touma-Sliman, of the majority-Arab Joint List party, who lamented that police have for years ignored violent crime in Arab towns and cities.

“All of a sudden the police now wake up and want to launch an operation for law and order,” Touma-Silman said, according to Haaretz. “Where were they when crime was running rampant in the Arab community? It seems that when it is related to saving Arab lives the police don’t move.”

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