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Israel: Palestinian citizens reject far-right militia to combat crime in Arab districts

June 6, 2023 at 2:57 pm

Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on April 10, 2023 [GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images]

Palestinian political parties in Israel are strongly opposed to a private militia under the control of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, being deployed in their neighbourhoods to combat rising crime. Lawmakers from the Knesset’s Palestinian-majority parties and local council representatives warned against the use of the far-right minister’s militia instead of the regular police force in new plans drafted to deal with the soaring crime rate.

Representatives of Israel’s Palestinian citizens met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday demanding an end to the indifference shown by successive governments in dealing with violence and crime in their neighbourhoods. During the meeting, Palestinian representatives blamed the government, police and Ben-Gvir for the problems. They called for the police to be given more resources to apprehend and convict perpetrators of crime affecting the Palestinian Arab community.

The latest figures indicate that 587 Palestinian citizens of Israel have been killed since January 2018 as a result of criminal acts and police inaction. Exposing the indifference of Israeli security officials towards crime in Palestinian neighbourhoods, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai was recorded in April saying that Arabs “murder each other” and that “it’s in their nature.”

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The issue of crime and violence in Israel’s Palestinian neighbourhoods is a result of decades of discrimination, neglect and lower standards of living compared with that enjoyed by Israel’s Jewish citizens. Moreover, police officers are accused of being lenient with criminal gangs. Their indifference has created an environment in which the gangs are able to flourish.

“The police come to suppress demonstrations in Arab society and not to provide services to protect citizens from crime, so crime grows and expands,” Mohammed Darawsheh, strategic director of the Givat Habiba Institute and an expert on Arab society in Israel, was reported as saying by Arab News.

Jall Banna, a political analyst from Kufur Yassif in Galilee, was also reported to be blaming the rise in violence on Israel’s discrimination. “If an Arab uses his weapon against a Jew or the state, he will be tried in a security court and imprisoned for 20 years. If an Arab uses his weapon against an Arab, he will not be detained or imprisoned for more than a few days or weeks; this is the limit. I believe that the police, even if they have the tools, do not have the desire to eradicate crime.”

With organised crime shifting to mixed Israeli-Arab cities, the matter is said to have become a strategic threat to the Jewish community, prompting a response from the Israeli government. According to Haaretz, following Monday’s meeting, Netanyahu agreed to the establishment of a ministerial committee, which he will chair, to fight rising rates of violence and crime in Arab society.

“We do not trust Netanyahu and have never trusted him,” said Hadash-Ta’al chair MK Ayman Odeh after the meeting with the prime minister. “But after he invited us to a meeting on fighting crime in Arab society, even if only one per cent progress is possible, we will do everything to defeat crime.”

In advance of the meeting with Netanyahu, Hadash-Ta’al issued a 12-point policy statement, which included calls for scrapping Ben-Gvir’s plans for his own private militia. “Since the police have an exclusive role in law enforcement, any other body that is delegated with police powers and enforcement would not serve our interests as a society and would even accomplish the opposite goals. We therefore demand scrapping the planned militia network or, alternatively, if it is established, that it should not have… authority over any issue related to the Arab [community],” said Hadash-Ta’al.

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