A police force of and for all citizens

Civil equality requires, among other things, acceptance of civic responsibility for the entire public, regardless of religion, race and gender. 

Salman Masalha ||

A police force of and for all citizens

There needs to be public discussion of the relations between the police and Arab citizens. Recently there has been a string of murder cases in Arab locales and in the absence of anyone who maintains law and order the extended families of crime are rampaging in broad daylight.

Most of the Arab public is law-abiding and it is fed up with the anarchy. Its right to a tranquil life is indisputable. It is necessary to demand that the government, and above all the Public Security Ministry, put an end to the criminality and afford full security to the Arab citizens of this country.

It is necessary to conduct an urgent re-examination of the flawed relationship between the police, the heads of local governments and the Arab leadership as a whole. It seems the Arab citizenry and the police force are alienated from each other.

A new path must be sought in order to reduce the structural tension between them. The local council heads and the Arab leadership at the national level are correct in their repeated call for confiscation of the illegal weaponry in their locales, but that is not enough.

For law and order to prevail in the Arab locales the Arab public and its leaders must see the police as their police and encourage young people to serve in the force – and they must also demand the establishment of permanent police stations in their locales.

The opposition on the part of leaders of the Arab public to recruiting young people into the police force, or establishing police stations in their communities, is perplexing, to say the least. The meaning of their opposition is that they want a police force of “outsiders” with individual “outsider” police officers to enter their communities in order to impose law and order for a brief period, and then leave. This is anti-civil behavior and it indicates that they are in fact relinquishing their justified demand for full civil equality.

Civil equality requires, among other things, acceptance of civic responsibility for the entire public, regardless of religion, race and gender. Civil equality also means recruiting Arab citizens into the police force and giving security to all citizens.

The state, too, must mend its ways in its relations with the Arab citizens, who are in desperate need of a normative and tranquil life, a life without crime. All the governments of Israel since the inception of the state have disgracefully failed this civic test.

More than once in the past I have noted that it would be appropriate if in every police car there were a male or female Arab police officer. This would constitute a big step forward, as an Arab citizen’s feeling in an encounter with the police would be completely different. The feeling of alienation would gradually disappear and with time the Arab citizen would internalize that the police force is also his police force.

In the past I also raised another proposal, complementary to the one above, that would relax structural tension in the relations with the police. The word “Police” should appear in the Arabic language on every single police vehicle. Without a label in Arabic, the Israel Police will always look to the Arab citizen like an alien police force.

This estrangement, which has existed for years, has recently been reinforced with the passage of the despicable nation-state law. This law has added fuel to the fire of alienation and estrangement by demoting the official status of the Arabic language.

The time has come to conduct a serious examination of this painful issue. The leaders of the Arab public must initiate a discussion with the central government, and propose solutions. It is not enough to release slogans into the air.

At the end of the day, the Israel Police must be the police force of all the country’s citizens. This principle must be accepted both by the national leadership and by the leadership of the Arab public. This is the only way and there is no other possibility. If this does not happen, the alienation will only get worse.

Haaretz, May 19, 2019

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