Equal Protection Under the Law

The tragic shooting attack in Tel Aviv on Friday, in which two Jews, Hy”d, and one Arab were murdered by an Israeli Arab, prompted a long-overdue reaction from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He said that the days in which police were afraid to enter Israeli Arab towns and villages were over and that the law must be enforced equally throughout Israel.

Though he was attacked by his political rivals for “inciting” against Israeli Arabs, his promise to spend money on police stations in the Arab sector was hailed by Israeli Arab leaders as long overdue. They’ve been begging for years for Israel’s police to come into their towns and confiscate the huge illegal arsenals of weapons.

The reason for this is that no one suffers from Arab lawlessness as much as the Arabs themselves. In September alone, there were 11 murders in Arab communities. Figures on violent crime in Israeli Arab society, compiled by the Knesset’s research department, show that violent crimes — including murder, robbery and aggravated assault — are three to six times as prevalent among Israeli Arabs as they are among Israeli Jews.

Local Arab politicians have been begging Israeli police officials to clean up their towns, starting with confiscating illegal weapons that are used to terrorize, first and foremost, local Israeli Arabs. “Weapons can be bought like cigarettes,” a resident of Arara, home of the Tel Aviv killer, told a reporter this week.

At a small demonstration held Sunday in front of the Prime Minister’s Office, Israeli Arab leaders expressed their frustration at the proliferation of weapons in their towns.

“There’s a plague of illegal weapons across all Arab communities,” MK Masoud Ganaeim (Ra’am-Ta’al) told The Times of Israel. “It is the responsibility of the police to collect these weapons… they sometimes ignore the problem and sometimes don’t take it seriously.”

Ganaeim, who noted that 60 percent of crime in Israel takes place within the Arab sector, said that most of the illegal weapons are stolen from army and police armories and traded on the black market (they have also been smuggled in from Jordan or from PA-controlled areas of Yehudah and Shomron). “If police believed that these weapons are being used against Jews for nationalistic reasons, they would have collected them all. But they don’t,” he added.

That criticism isn’t entirely fair. Police have not always ignored the problem. In the first three months of 2012, they seized 110 pistols, 70 assault rifles, 50 grenades, 15 explosive devices, 2 kilos of TNT and three shoulder-fired missiles that they believed were intended for criminal use.

The head of the Northern police district, Cmdr. Roni Atiya, made collecting illegal firearms his top priority for 2012.

But the problem is not just criminal, it’s cultural, and therefore can’t be solved solely by the police. Mahmoud Aasi, mayor of Kafr Bara, one of the richest Arab communities in Israel, put it bluntly. “At the end of the day… we are too trigger-happy.

“We have lost our ability to conduct cultural dialogue and have begun using the language of violence, shooting and crime. I’m worried that these weapons will eventually be directed at Jewish society, not even for nationalistic reasons [but for criminal ones].”

For the past 70 years, since the founding of the state, the government has done a disservice to Jews and Arabs alike by looking the other way at Arab crime, whether it is income-tax evasion or desecration of Jewish graves on Har Hazeisim or illegal possession of weapons or illegal building or violation of air-pollution codes.

Israel must assert its sovereignty, which includes its ability to enforce the law to the benefit of all its citizens, throughout the land. Any vacuum will be filled by the armed gangs who threaten local Arab residents and by terrorist influences like Islamic State, that threaten Jews.

But it isn’t enough for the government to spend millions on police stations and police officers throughout the Negev, the Galilee, and the large Israeli towns in an area known as “the triangle.” The Israeli Arab leadership has to do its part. It has to decide whether its loyalty is to Israel or to the Palestinians, and it has to pay attention to what Netanyahu referred to as the “wild incitement by radical Islamists against Israel in the Arab sector — incitement in mosques, in the education system, and on social media networks.”

It is to be hoped that the tragedy of the Tel Aviv shootings will lead to recognition on the part of Jews and Arabs in Israel that each must do his part to ensure peace for all sides; that the sovereign government will provide the law-and-order resources and the local Arab leadership will cap the incitement that has fueled the current intifada and claimed nearly 30 lives.