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Cabinet seeks to extend police powers to fight crime

What happened: The cabinet has granted police greater authority to search homes of violent crime suspects without a prior court order, in what constitutes a new step to tackle rising crime in the Arab sector.

  • The bill is spearheaded by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who told the Cabinet: “We’re at war. We must give the police and law enforcement agencies better tools to succeed in their missions.”
  • Whilst Israeli law already allows the police to conduct searches without warrants for several purposes, Sa’ar’s bill would allow police officers to enter homes to seize evidence related to serious crimes when they have grounds to believe that it would otherwise be destroyed.
  • Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the cabinet, “We are losing the country,” emphasising the situation among Arab Israelis.
  • This morning an Arab man was shot dead in northern Israel, bringing the number of murder victims in Israel’s Arab community to 100 this year alone.
  • Last week, Israel Police’s northern district Shimon Lavi said “90 per cent of the shooting incidents, 65 per cent of the arson incidents, and 80 per cent of the robbery incidents” in the north of the country happen in the Arab sector, which represents half of the 1.3 million citizens living in the north.
  • Newly installed Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar has vowed to use the security agency to tackle violent crime in the Arab community. However, the agency’s involvement in civilian affairs remains controversial.
  • During his swearing-in ceremony last week, Bar said: “There has been a lot of talk lately about the growing violence in general and in Arab society in particular. The agency will not stand idly by … this is obviously a national mission.”

Context: The government acknowledges that the rising level of violence is to some extent a result of years of state neglect toward crime in Arab cities and towns.

  • Israeli Arabs make up roughly 21 per cent of the population, but accounted for 71 per cent of the 125 murders in Israel in 2019.
  • 84 Arab citizens and 15 Palestinians have died in crime-related deaths in Israel since the beginning of 2021, according to the Abraham Initiatives. 82 were gun-related, 48 of them involved the killing of someone under age 30, and 86 of those killed were men.
  • The deaths have spawned an “Arab Lives Matter” campaign, but unlike the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, which protests police racism and brutality, Arab leaders are calling for greater police action.
  • Prominent Israeli Arab commentators have openly called for the involvement of the Shin Bet to combat criminal organisations, whilst many local Arab mayors maintain close ties with the police and cooperate extensively with the enforcement authorities, including with the IDF Homefront Command, which operated in Arab localities during COVID.
  • The United Arab List – which is part of the coalition – and its leader, chair of Special Committee on Arab Society Affairs Mansour Abbas, has been actively promoting greater police enforcement of Arab communities inside the government. He told Channel 12 News in early October: “The address from my point of view is the government. It is responsible, it is supposed to provide individual and community security for the citizens of this country, Jews and Arabs. All the tools it has, all the agencies it has, it will use within the law and ensuring human rights and dignity, and we will achieve results.”
  • The Prime Minister’s Office has set up a task force to fight crime and violence in the Arab sector. In early October the task force decided to focus on the issue of illegal weapons in the country. Estimates of illegal guns in Arab communities range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.
  • Under the plan by Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz, work will be carried out in cooperation with all relevant ministries and agencies including the Israel Police, the Shin Bet, the National Security Council, the Attorney General, the State Attorney, the Tax Authority, the Israel Money Laundering Prohibition Authority and others.

Looking ahead: Sa’ar’s bill will now go to the Knesset where it could be fast-tracked for approval and signed into law.

  • In the Knesset’s winter session, the Justice Ministry is expected to promote a series of laws to provide law enforcement with greater tools to crack down on illegal weapons, including minimum sentence legislation for possessing and trafficking in weapons.
  • There are no plans to amend the Israel Security Agency Law. The Shin Bet will act within the framework of the existing law, which allows it – in exceptional cases – to tackle civil aspects considered of critical national interest.

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