The Washington Post Misleads on Crime in Israel’s Arab Communities

In its Oct. 16, 2019 report (“As violent crime spikes in Israeli Arab towns, so does anger over a double standard in policing”), The Washington Post correctly notes that there has been “a wave of violence” in some Israeli Arab communities. But the newspaper only briefly—and only towards the end of the article—details some of the factors abetting the crime rate.

According to the Post’s new Jerusalem bureau chief, Steve Hendrix, and correspondents Ruth Eglash and Sufian Taha, “more than 75 Israeli Arabs” were “killed in violent attacks so far this year, a spike of nearly 50 percent over 2018.” The newspaper added: “Arab citizens say they are under siege in areas awash with illegal weapons, nightly gunfire, organized crime and revenge killings.” In Umm al-Fahm, a city of 57,000, only two of last year’s murders were solved, the Post reports.

The responsibility for this discrepancy, the Post would have you believe, largely rests on Israel’s shoulders. “Israeli Arabs,” the newspaper asserts, “say such a crime wave would never be tolerated in the country’s Jewish neighborhoods, where fatalities are rare and police are praised for high-tech crime-fighting.”

While Israeli officials have acknowledged that, in years past, the nation’s Arab communities didn’t receive a comparable level of focus by police officials, “that has begun to change” with authorities highlighting “the hiring of more police, including Arab recruits and the opening of seven stations in affected areas, with two more scheduled to open before the end of the year.” Further, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to increase spending on law enforcement in Arab neighborhoods.

But the truth is more complex than a purported “double standard in policing” that the Post’s headline breathlessly repeats—and statements buried in the article note as much.

Indeed, Israeli police “say one of the biggest barriers in Arab communities is a lack of trust and cooperation.” This results in witnesses staying silent and crimes going unreported. It’s difficult, however, to solve crimes without cooperation from the community.

“One police commander,” Hendrix, Taha and Eglash point out, “told a criminologist at Hebrew University that Arab residents sometimes actively thwart investigators,” even going as far as removing closed-circuit cameras, collecting evidence like bullet shell casings and other means of tampering with crime scenes.

As Mordechai Kedar, a researcher of Arab societies at Bar-Ilan University, told the Post: “There is a culture of tribes and the families remain silent, like a brick wall.” The report itself notes part of the reason for the silence: an unwillingness to cooperate with a government that they view as illegitimate.

As Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security minister, said, “because of the national conflict between Jews and Arabs, some in the Arab community believe that cooperating with the police means supporting Israeli sovereignty.”

Unfortunately, the Post largely glosses over this point, preferring instead to treat the rising crime rate as more closely intertwined with purported Israeli discrimination, telling readers that “some Jewish Israelis view Arab culture as inherently violent” pointing “to a history of revenge attacks, clan feuds and so-called honor killings.” But it’s not only “Jewish Israelis” who have said as much.

Yousef Jabareen, an Israeli Arab member of the country’s parliament cited in the Post’s dispatch, lamented in a June 24, 2012 interview on official Palestinian Authority TV: “Part of our identity is to attack women – we must acknowledge it… Palestinian identity has its charms, but there are things that we have adopted from Arab culture for centuries that harm the individual and the woman. For example, in recent months, look how many [Arab] women were killed in Lod, in Ramle, and in Acre, and so on. That’s part of our identity.”

It seems clear that crime rates are both rising and disproportionate in several of Israel’s Arab communities. But it seems equally clear that the reasons for this disparity—several of which are alluded to in the article itself—are much more complex than the Post’s headline would lead readers to believe.