Human rights groups and Palestinian citizens of Israel have opposed the rising state hostility towards them which they have called akin to apartheid. A bill was approved by the Israeli cabinet on Sunday, October 17, which allows the police to search the homes of Arab citizens without a court warrant. The reasons for this hostility is rooted in their solidarity with the Palestinians in the occupied territories, critics say.
According to the recent proposal presented by Gideon Sa’ar, interior minister in the Neftali Bennet-led government, police officers will have the discretion to enter Arab homes “when they have good reasons to believe that the suspects and weapons they are looking for are present” there.
While presenting the proposal to the cabinet, Sa’ar proclaimed, “We are at war, so we need to give the police and local authorities better tools to help them succeed in their mission.”
The bill will soon be put to vote in the Israeli parliament, Knesset, and will become a law if passed.
Hostile and discriminatory moves
Sunday’s cabinet approval is part of a long list of such initiatives approved by the Bennett government in the name of fighting what it calls rising rates of crime among the Arab citizens of Israel. In the beginning of October, Bennett announced that Israeli security agency Shabak, or Shin Bet, will be authorized to operate within the Arab community.
Last week, Israel also extended the indefinite detention policy, so far followed only in the occupied territories, to Arab citizens of Israel. As per the policy, suspects can be arrested and jailed without formal trial for an indefinite period.
The move has invited strong criticism from the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights or Adalah, a Palestinian rights group inside the 1948 Israel borders. It called the move illegal as Shin Bet has no mandate to operate among civilians. It also argued that the decision is indicative of “hostile and discriminatory treatment of Palestinian citizens by Israeli authorities,” and amounts to creating two separate law enforcement systems in which Palestinians are treated as “enemy aliens.” The group added that the move is a “direct continuation of military rule over Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
Responding to Sunday’s proposal, Adalah said that the discretionary power given to the police “often leads to abuse and systemic violations of civil rights,” Jerusalem Post reported.
Tamar Zandberg, a minister in Bennet’s cabinet from the left-wing Meretz party, also objected to the move saying that it is “rare in a democracy”.
A civilian issue
Against claims by the government and some commentators who argue that the objective of this approach is to address the issue of rising crime rates and socio-economic disparities in Israel, critics have pointed to the specific security component of the move and the conspicuous lack of any significant step to address the issues of economic and social deprivation among Arabs in Israel.
Some even called it a colonial strategy as by focusing on crime rates among Arabs, the Israeli government will further marginalize them and force them to stop being politically vocal about the occupation and related issues.
Critics have pointed out that Israeli policy makers are worried about the incidents that took place in May 2021, when Palestinians took out large-scale protests and participated in a general strike across historical Palestine in opposition to the attacks on Gaza, the Al-Aqsa mosque, and Sheikh Jarrah, among other issues.
A rise in crime among Arabs in Israel has been documented. According to the Abraham Initiative in Israel, 101 Arabs have been killed in intra-community shootings so far this year. The tally last year was 97, and only half of that in 2019.
One of the founders of the Abraham Initiative was quoted in Jerusalem Post saying that “the discretionary powers assigned to police by the proposed law is problematic particularly when Arabs in Israel have strong reasons to not trust the Israeli police which has a record of discrimination against them.”
Arabs constitute around 21% of Israel’s total population and mostly live in densely populated cities in its central and northern parts. The average poverty rate among the community is more than double (49%) the national figure (20%). Arabs are systematically discriminated against in Israel in public and private sector jobs, and most of them do not possess much property due to seizures during the military rule over them between 1948 and 1966. Since the passing of the Jewish nation-state law in 2018, their status has further deteriorated in Israel.
Noting this larger socio-economic discrimination, Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List and a member of the Knesset, called the new approach discriminatory. In an TV interview on Saturday, October 16, he emphasized, “we (Arabs in Israel) are not a security issue, but a civilian one.”