The widespread violence in Arab society and its social and economic consequences have reached a point of social catastrophe.
A study by the Knesset Research Unit, commissioned by MK Aida Touma-Sliman, examined the rate of violence in Arab society between 2014 and 2016. The study confirmed the severity of the problem: while Arabs make up just under 20% of Israel population, Arab citizens represent 64% of murder victims, 57% of murder suspects, 53% of the victims of attempted murder, half of those suspected of causing serious injury, one third of the victims of attacks on public officials and workers, and 82% of suspected of carrying, possessing and using illegal weapons.
The widespread violence in Arab society is a result of four main factors: 1) decades of under-policing in Arab communities that stems from the perception of the Arab minority as a security threat rather than as a citizen deserving equitable law enforcement services; 2) poverty and unemployment among young adults, coupled with low education opportunities and lack of welfare services; 3) erosion of traditional social structures and authority and 4) alienation from Israeli society and the state.
Within this context, even positive economic and social development in Arab society have taken a toll and bring with them new types of criminal activity. Entrepreneurship and commerce require financial capital and credit which is not readily available in Arab communities. This creates a fertile ground for high interest loans, debt collection and extortion.
Finally, effective law enforcement in Jewish communities creates a “high pressure” climate for criminals, pushing them and their illegal activity to “low pressure” areas, namely Arab towns.
The Israel Police and the Public Security Ministry are aware by now of this situation and its gravity. While there appears to be movement toward improving the policing services in Arab towns, the slow pace of this change cannot keep up with the widespread and growing crime across Arab communities in Israel.
Moreover, it is important to recognize that law enforcement alone cannot address the root causes of violence and crime. Now is the time to present a holistic, sustainable and comprehensive state-led plan to address the root causes of violence in Arab towns:
• Affirmative action in budget allocation – Arab authorities should be given preference in budget allocations for emergency response services, include medical, firefighting and policing, and in programs like “City Without Violence.”
• Education against violence –curricula must be developed, tailored to and taught in Arab middle and high schools, with focus on conflict resolution and safe driving.
• Young adult unemployment – a comprehensive plan must respond to the widespread unemployment and limited opportunities available to young Arab adults. This must include concrete approach to address high drop-out rates from school, developing post-high school education programs, and establishing sports and recreational facilities.
• Conflict mediation centers – community centered and community based mediation platforms must be developed, focusing and prioritizing family and neighborhood disputes.
• Financial services and loans – Increased access to banking, capital and credit services must be made available across Arab communities. This includes the establishment of new bank branches and development of official and legal loan and mortgage programs.
• Police presence – new police stations must be established in all Arab towns, thereby increasing the continued presence of police forces to mitigate violence.
• Pro-community policing – law enforcement focusing on solving specific problems must be developed. Policing services must be based on equitable and equal service provision. “Procedural Justice” should be adopted as a leading policing method in the community.
• Collection of proliferated illegal weapons – voluntary hand-over of illegal weapons must be encouraged and developed. This should be followed by law enforcement mechanisms to collect weapons across Arab communities.
This holistic plan requires the full support in planning and implementation of government ministries and Arab local government. It will also need a proactive support of the leaders of the Arab public.
The attribution of violence and crime to “nature” or “mentality” is simplistic, ineffective and itself a barrier to dealing with a complex but solvable solution. The time has come for Arab citizens to know that their lives are as valued to the state as the lives of their Jewish counterparts.
The author is co-CEO at the Abraham Fund Initiatives, a non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting equality and coexistence between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens.