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Five steps the government must take to combat Arab violence

The gang wars in Arab towns should have the state authorities rethink their approach, as well as take immediate steps to restore trust and personal safety.

Members of Israel's Arab community protest against the violence in their community, at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on Aug. 6, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Members of Israel's Arab community protest against the violence in their community, at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on Aug. 6, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat is head of the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy & National Security, in Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021. Prior to that, for 25 years he held senior positions in the Israel Security Agency (Shabak).

Israel is in a state of lawlessness. “This is an emergency that requires determined steps by the state to root out crime and violence and to prevent the loss of life.” This statement, made by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, perfectly summarizes the state of affairs in Israel amid the deadly crime wave plaguing the Arab sector.

There is no point in explaining how dire the situation is. An increasing share of the public feels the state no longer fulfills its basic duty towards its citizens: protecting them and their property.

This reality has major ramifications nationally and on an individual level: It creates a feeling of lost personal safety and the inability to lead a normal life, while simultaneously undermining Israel’s image on the world stage and creating a basis for the claim that it deliberately discriminates against and neglects the Arab community. It also has the effect of pushing young Arabs into crime families, since they are no longer of the view that the state can provide for their security and protection. The declining personal security has also had the effect of changing how families conduct their day-to-day affairs in the Arab sector. 

The Israel Police is not indifferent to the struggles of the public. It is well aware of what is expected of it, and despite the scathing criticism it faces, still has an important role to play. It has been proactive and has been making great efforts, but the challenge has become too great and can no longer be dealt with using the conventional tools at its disposal. 

But the state has proven that it knows how to deal with such complex challenges. Here are five decisions that could create a turning point and significantly move the battle against crime forward.

First, defining the fight against crime as a national mission that is spearheaded by the prime minister: To successfully deal with the challenge, it is vital that the response be part of a multi-agency process synchronized at the national level through various ministries, municipalities and other relevant bodies.

On top of the national security minister, all related ministries should take part in this effort, including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Justice Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Interior Minister. Having the prime minister lead this effort is crucial not just because of the message this would send, but also to ensure that all the ministries and authorities are involved on a personal level and to integrate the various bodies and apparatuses that are directly subordinate to the prime minister. It would also help cut inter-agency red tape when it comes to making decisions.

A holistic, comprehensive and methodical approach must be taken, and all those involved may be part of the process. Benchmarks, with clear quantitative measures, would be set, as well as a timetable to have them realized, with ongoing oversight by the prime minister and complete transparency, to win back the public’s trust and restore its security.

Second, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) must be employed to the fullest extent as allowed under the law. Rather than wasting time on redefining the current definitions, it would be best to see what can be done under the current framework, under the loosest possible interpretation. This practical approach will be acceptable for the Shin Bet as well and will allow it to preserve its resources and capabilities, especially in light of the rising threat of terrorism.

Third, administrative detention must be employed, in a measured and monitored way, to deal with the threats to public safety, even when this is not terrorism-related. The criticism over using such tools in a democratic society is valid. As is the fear of a slippery slope. But in the grand scheme of things, this is a necessary evil because there is no available alternative for law enforcement when it comes to neutralizing immediate threats. It would be proper to set processes that would let agencies use this tool on a temporary basis, so long as it is within reason and under oversight.

Fourth, the government must combat the black market, via a dramatic reduction of cash-only transactions. It would be appropriate to task the Finance Ministry with devising a whole host of measures for the immediate and long term in order to bring about a major reduction in such transactions, financial fraud, and money laundering in order to make life harder for crime gangs.

Fifth and last, the government must crack down on illegal arms trafficking. To do this, Israeli intelligence agencies and interrogation units in the Israel Police must be bolstered, even if that comes at the expense of other efforts. Arms-related felonies should potentially be classified as terror-related, which would allow the Shin Bet to get involved in such cases and will bolster deterrence.

Increasing activity in these five areas will require an adjustment of the resources and capabilities at the State Attorney’s Office, the courts and the Israel Prison Service. Otherwise, each of those changes could bottleneck the process.  

The state of personal security is at a low point, which makes it impossible to wait until the long-term plan is fully implemented. The leaders of the Arab sector today are not only keen to see this through but also insist on having it implemented and are willing to make significant concessions toward this. The state agencies must act in an emergency mode, build their force on the go and take immediate measures in that direction, however imperfect they may be, to stop the bleeding and restore the public’s sense of personal safety.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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