TEL AVIV – There has been a surge of interest among Arab Israelis in joining the Israel Police following a campaign targeting that sector of society.
Arab citizens of Israel have had a strained relationship with the police, being vastly underrepresented on the force and over-represented in crime statistics, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The police issued a “personal and unique call to recruitment for men and women from the Arab society in Israel” in the framework of its 2016-2017 recruitment campaign, which is part of a five-year, NIS 2 billion plan to increase policing in the Arab sector.
The campaign, in conjunction with the Public Security ministry, has enjoyed some measure of success in the past year, with police receiving some 1,420 applications from Arab Israelis so far in 2016 – up from 543 in 2015.
At present, the 20% of Israel’s population who are Arab are represented by only 2% in the police force. In contrast, some 59% of murders occur in Arab communities according to 2015 statistics.
The goal of the campaign is to urge Arab Israelis to join all ranks of the force, from patrol units to traffic police and SWAT teams, a police spokesman told the Post.
Spokeswoman Luba Samri, herself an Arab Israeli, said the police force is seeking a “significant and permanent presence” in Arab communities, best achieved through increasing the amount of Arab Israeli officers.
Samri added that there is “a massive mobilization of police, with an emphasis on Arab Muslims, with the understanding that, in order to deal with problems that characterize the sector, there is a duty to know the sector,” she said.
In February, Arab Israeli Jamal Hakroush was appointed assistant chief of police, marking the first time a Muslim reached such a senior position on the force.
Hakroush is in charge of a unit tasked with combating crime in the Arab sector, as well as handling the sector’s unique needs.
The hope is that an increase in Arab officers will result in a decrease in crime in those communities, in addition to restoring trust between police and citizens.
According to the report, Arab Israelis – many of whom identify as Palestinian – have maintained a relationship of distrust with the police, claiming officers treat them with prejudice and often violate their rights.
Following Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheikh’s controversial comments on August 30 that a relationship of suspicion was only “natural” due to the Ethiopian and Arab Israeli communities’ high crime rates, many in Israel called for his resignation. Alsheikh responded by saying police are working to fix the issues.
Suhad Bishara, acting general director of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, believes the recruitment campaign will have little impact on mending ties between the police and Arab communities.
“This will probably not change anything, because the root problem is with a system that still sees Arab citizens as unequal,” she told the Post.