The Arab politician asking Israeli police to enter his communities


Ayman Odeh reflects fears of Arab minority who feel abandoned by law enforcement amid a spike in gang violence

Its an unusual request not one you might expect to hear from an Arab politician in Israel.

Ayman Odeh, however, is clear: Israeli police should launch an immediate anti-crime crackdown in his communitys towns and cities.

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We want them to fight organised crime, we want them to end protection, we want them to close the black market and we want them to collect all the illegal weapons, he says.

Odeh, who has risen to become the most influential Arab in Israeli politics, is more used to challenging wrongdoing by the police than calling for their help. But a dramatic spike in gang violence has led to a wave of protests by Palestinian citizens of Israel, who feel abandoned by law enforcement.

The countrys Arab minority accounts for around a fifth of the population but suffers more than half of all deaths from violent crime. There have been more than 82 killings so far in 2019.

Arab citizens dont have a state behind them, says Odeh. He blames the security vacuum on decades of neglect and preferential treatment given to investigating crimes against Jews. This year, police solved cases involving the murder of Jews at almost twice the rate as those involving Arabs. Meanwhile, Odeh says, Arab-on-Arab violence is ignored.

Israels Arab citizens are Palestinians and their families who remained in the country after its creation in 1948, while hundreds of thousands of others were forced out or fled. They have the right to vote but suffer discrimination and many feel treated like second-class citizens.

The response from authorities to the protests has been mixed. Israeli police reject the allegations and have been publicising their recent operations in Arab communities, especially drug and weapons busts.

Israels prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has pledged to place more police officers in Arab neighbourhoods. But a study carried out last year found that not only were Arab communities lacking in police presence but widespread distrust of authorities and a lack of cooperation with police officers also blocked investigations.

Meanwhile, a cabinet minister in charge of overseeing the police force came out with a string of racist comments, blaming the minority for their own situation.

Arab society, and I am sorry to say this, is very, very violent, public security minister Gilad Erdan told a local radio station.

Its connected to the culture there. A lot of disputes that end here with a lawsuit, there they pull out a knife and a gun, he says. Following a backlash, he later tweeted the main responsibility for fighting crime lies with the authorities, and said the Arab public was normative and law-abiding.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says as well as upping law enforcement operations, leaders of Arab communities should do more to speak out against the dangers of holding weapons.

We have dealt with a wedding that took place in an Israeli-Arab wedding where shots were fired in the air as part of the celebrations, he says. That is against the law, its illegal, its unacceptable.

For Odeh, Erdan and the police are racist to their core In any other country, someone like Erdan would have been fired a long, long time ago.

Odeh has personal experience, having been famously shot in the head with a rubber bullet while protesting against the forced eviction of a Bedouin village in the countrys south in 2017. Police denied the incident, claiming he was hit by a stone thrown by a demonstrator, but an unofficial investigation later suggested it was indeed a bullet.

We are a non-violent society, says Odeh, rubbing the old gash on his forehead.

Decades of discrimination regarding planning permits, he says, has squeezed the minority, forcing them into smaller plots of land and cutting off their access to farmland a seismic shock for a previously agricultural society.

If you were in a helicopter flying over the whole country, without any hardship you could point out which town is Arab or Jewish. Any place with only concrete, that is Arab. Anywhere you see a diverse landscape with parks and green gardens, thats a Jewish town. Thats called apartheid.

With chronic unemployment, poverty and without proper law enforcement, organised crime has thrived.

But is there a dilemma is asking a police force he believes to be fundamentally racist into Arab communities? You can solve that problem, he retorts. If the police did its job, it wouldnt be racist.

If Israel wanted to solve this problem, they could do it in a week. They know exactly where everyone lives; they know exactly what to do.

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