Police minister says IDF will play no role in fighting Arab community violence

Public Security Minister Barlev appears to contradict announcement by Bennett’s office on army’s part in effort; PM stresses Shin Bet’s involvement will be limited

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev during a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev during a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said Monday that the Israel Defense Forces would not be involved in efforts to address the epidemic of violent crime in Israel’s Arab communities, possibly contradicting an announcement a day earlier by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“A clarification, for the sake of accuracy, of what was published in the media about the ministerial panel discussions last night on fighting crime in Arab communities: There is no talk in any way about the need for the IDF to be involved in the fight, and the IDF has no role in the program led by the Public Security Ministry under my leadership,” Barlev tweeted.

“During all three hours of the discussion, the word ‘IDF’ was mentioned only in the context of the theft of weapons from its bases and how that can be prevented,” he wrote.

The statement from Barlev came after the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Sunday that an “inter-ministerial working team” headed by Yoav Segalovitz, Barlev’s deputy and a retired police major-general, will “focus on dealing with the issue of illegal weapons in coordination with the IDF and the Shin Bet.”

It was not clear whether the PMO was referring to weapons theft when mentioning IDF involvement.

According to Channel 12, following the PMO announcement, IDF officials expressed concern over the fact that they had not been involved in the decision-making and do not have the legal status to operate in civilian areas.

At a ceremony honoring members of the Shin Bet on Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the security service’s efforts in the matter “will be limited to areas that do not create tension with its designation within law.” He did not give further details.

Police at the scene of the murder of Sahar Ismail, the education minister’s aide for Arab society, in the northern Israeli town of Rameh, on August 15, 2021. (Flash90)

Officials have said the task force led by Segalovitz will focus on the issue of illegal weapons in the Arab sector. In addition, the Justice Ministry will promote a series of laws to provide law enforcement with greater tools to crack down on illegal weapons.

Arab politicians immediately criticized the decision to involve security services, calling it undemocratic.

“Fight criminals, not democracy. The sole responsibility for law enforcement among civilians is the police, not intelligence agencies and the military…The last thing we need is more of the same attitude: police for Jews and Shin Bet for Arabs,” Joint List chief Ayman Odeh said in a tweet.

Odeh’s colleague Sami Abou Shehadah from the hardline nationalist Balad party said the move proved that “the State of Israel deals with Arab citizens as a security threat, not as civilians.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convenes a ministerial meeting in Jerusalem on October 3, 2021, to discuss violent crime in the Arab sector. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s meeting, Bennett said that violence in the Arab community must be immediately addressed.

“The problem was pushed aside and neglected for years until it reached outrageous proportions, as we have seen over the past year,” Bennett said. “Our government is taking the issue very seriously.”

Bennett convened the meeting, which included a range of top law enforcement officials — including the justice, public security and interior ministers, the attorney general and the incoming head of the Shin Bet — as a wave of violence engulfs many of Israel’s Arab communities. According to The Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, 95 Arabs have been killed so far in violent crimes inside Israel this year.

Over the past few years, Arab Israelis have seen sharply rising violence: gang assassinations in broad daylight, gunfire at the homes of local mayors, and thousands of illegal, easily accessible guns.

Both government officials and civil society experts say the violence is the fruit of decades of state neglect. Over half of Arab Israelis live under the poverty line. Their towns and cities often have crumbling infrastructure, poor public services and few job prospects, leading some young people to collaborate with organized crime.

Amy Spiro and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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