Security agencies say reforms already underway after handling of 2021 unrest panned

Public Security Ministry asserts past year spent working with law enforcement agencies to learn lessons; Arab MK slams comptroller for viewing her community as ‘enemies’

File: Police are seen in Lod during ethnic rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
File: Police are seen in Lod during ethnic rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Public Security Ministry, the police, and the Shin Bet security service all said Wednesday they have already implemented changes to address issues detailed in a state comptroller report that found systemic failures in Israel’s handling of deadly inter-racial riots that broke out in May 2021.

Problems with intelligence gathering, coordination and operational preparedness hampered the police’s response to violent unrest over several days last year in cities with mixed Arab-Jewish populations, the state watchdog said in a damning report published earlier in the day.

Comptroller Matanyahu Englman noted that officers failed to plan for unrest outside Jerusalem, and it took five days for the Border Police gendarmerie to fully deploy to needed areas to help quell the rioting, which left three dead.

“The violent riots amid the events of Guardian of the Walls revealed significant deficiencies in the police’s activities,” said Englman.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, whose ministry is responsible for the police, accepted the report’s findings but maintained that during his time in office, which began after the riots, he has implemented measures to deal with the issues, such as establishing a national guard within the Border Police.

“I am determined that the events of Guardian of the Walls, as we experienced inside the State of Israel, will not occur again,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

The Israel Police said that “a large portion” of the issues raised by the state ombudsman have already been examined and dealt with.

It also pushed back on some of the criticism regarding intelligence problems, saying that its Intelligence Division “presented a reliable, up-to-date and comprehensive intelligence situation assessment” based on information available at the time, and that “as the intelligence picture changed, the police acted accordingly.”

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev attends a faction meeting at the Knesset on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The police stated that additional financial resources have been allocated to renew and increase supplies of ammunition for the dispersal of demonstrations and supplies of tactical riot gear used by the forces in the field.

In addition, an extra 26 reserve companies have been established for the Border Police in order to boost the police’s ability to deal with large-scale, violent disturbances in a short period of time, the force said.

The Shin Bet, which sits under the Prime Minister’s Office, said it was studying the report and that it had already begun implementing changes in its operations within the Arab community after learning lessons from the riots.

“From the beginning of 2022, the Shin Bet decided, as part of its mission, to expand its activities in the Arab community in general and in the cities involved in particular,” it said in a statement.

Torched synagogues, cars and vandalized stores in Lod, following a night of ethnic rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel, May 12, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

An emphasis has been placed on “national public order and the interface between criminal and security activities,” all in accordance with the law, the Shin Bet said.

Defending itself over activities before the riot, the service noted the report found that it had drawn attention to trends that were then addressed by police in preparing for possible violence.

“Contrary to what was stated in the report, the Shin Bet recognized from the moment the events began that it was an escalation on a nationalist background” and conducted operations to provide real-time intelligence, it said.

It also called for future legislative amendments to enable it to better deal with such circumstances, noting that it is confined to operating within the “limitations of the law and the restraint of force” when dealing with Israeli citizens

Leader of the far-right Religious-Zionism party MK Bezalel Smotrich tweeted that the report reveals “blindness and denial in reading reality” by security forces, and claimed that police ignored extreme nationalism that is “increasingly present in Arab society.”

MK Merav Ben-Ari at a conference at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, February 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Merav Ben-Ari, chair of the Knesset Public Security Committee, said that given the inadequate resources provided to police by past governments, and that at the time of the riots there was no appointed police commissioner, the outcome should not be surprising.

“For years they invested in the army, budgets of billions, and the police officers were left behind with a miserable wage and a bus pass for travel,” she tweeted.

“There is much to improve and correct and the police are learning,” she said.

In a separate statement, the Public Security Ministry said that, together with police, it has over the past year been learning the lesson from the Guardian of the Walls incidents with the goal of being prepared to deal with any future similar events.

The process has seen “actions and processes to increase national preparedness for large-scale disturbances, and with a special emphasis on increasing personal security in the cities involved, in Arab society, in the Negev and in Jerusalem,” the ministry said.

Mor Ganashvili, who was seriously wounded after being assaulted by an Arab mob in the northern city of Acre, told the Kan public broadcaster he doubts the report will make any difference and it will “remain in a drawer.”

He called for an inquiry committee into what he claimed were restrictions placed on police from responding to the rioter.

“It is not logical that we can be murdered and the police don’t respond,” he said.

Mor Ganashvili, an Israeli who was assaulted by an Arab mob, at the Galilee Medical Center, May 14, 2021. (video screenshot)

MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint List of Arab parties criticized Engleman for the report’s view of Arab citizens “as enemies or potential enemies” who need to be controlled.

“As long as the state and the government continue with systematic discrimination and implement an ideology of Jewish supremacy, neither Jews nor Arabs will enjoy real security,” said Touma-Sliman.

Three people were killed and hundreds more hurt in days of violent unrest in cities with mixed Arab-Jewish populations as Israel saw some of the worst inter-communal violence since the state’s founding, with long-simmering nationalist tensions between Jews and Arabs exploding in a barrage of firebombs, shootings and brawls. The riots occurred during Operation Guardian of the Walls, the name for Israel’s 11-day war with Gaza.

The report found that the police failed in collecting intelligence on the possibility of nationalistically motivated mass disturbances. It also pointed to failures in intelligence-sharing between the Shin Bet and the police; incorrect allocations of manpower due to faulty intelligence leading to serious delays in force deployment; and a lack of adequate equipment for riot police.

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