Sunday, January 15, 2012

New plan criminalizes Palestinian citizens of Israel

Alternative Information Center

On the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Minister of Internal Security, Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beteinu), presented a plan to the government today that will essentially criminalize Palestinian citizens of Israel under the guise of “improving personal and community security within the Arab sector.”

According to the plan, which the Ministry of Public Security has already begun to implement, three special police units, including detective and investigation units, were created in Nazareth, Tayibe and the Bedouin communities in the south. Some 11 additional units will be established within the next two years. According to the plan, neighborhood watches will be strengthened in Arab areas and the Arab sector will be given special priority for programs like “City Without Violence” and the war on drugs.

While the Aharonovitch plan is presented as a service to the Arab-Palestinian community in Israel, it further criminalizes Palestinian citizens of the state without addressing the root causes of crime.

According to Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the criminal justice system is regularly used as a means of delegitimizing Palestinian political acts. Police routinely use force against Arab demonstrators in order to silence voices of protest. Furthermore, Palestinian citizens encounter disproportionate and systematic mass arrests, primarily on the pretense of their mere presence at the scene.

In addition, more than 30 laws discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the current government coalition has proposed new racist and discriminatory bills which are at various stages in the legislative process. They include laws that will place restrictions on freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and access to the political system, including ideological limitations on the platforms of political parties. Such laws are used to curb the political freedom of Palestinian citizens and their elected representatives and are shrinking their already limited space for political action.

In addition to the legal restrictions imposed by the state, the Palestinian community within Israel is subject to constant racist attacks by law enforcement agencies and by Jewish citizens.

According to the 2011 Racism Report, published by the Coalition Against Racism in Israel, 46 Arab citizens have been killed since October 2000, with only two cases involving Israeli police officers ending in conviction. 28 incidents of violence against Arab citizens committed by security forces were recorded during 2011, which is almost double the number of incidents in the previous year. In addition, 68 incidents of racism by Jewish citizens against Arab citizens were reported during 2011.

It is reasonable to expect that the increased number of law enforcement officers within Palestinian communities will also see an increase the number of racist acts by law enforcement officers against Palestinian citizens of Israel. On the other hand, it is doubtful that raising the amount of police officers on the streets, without addressing the root causes of crime, will actually reduce crime.

The Aharonovitch plan is racist because it presupposes that crime in Israel is an Arab phenomenon and that Arabs commit crime because they are Arabs. It does not take into consideration that the state’s discriminatory policies exacerbate and, in some cases, create the social issues that go hand-in-hand with crime.

Over half of Arab families in Israel live in poverty. The figure is far higher among Arab Bedouin families, at 67.2%. The average poverty rate throughout Israel is 20.5%.

The high rate of poverty among Palestinian citizens of Israel is directly related to institutional discrimination which includes land confiscations, evictions and zoning restrictions that prevent Arab localities from developing their own industries or commercial zones. Many employers require potential employees to have completed military service—and as a tremendous majority of Arab citizens do not serve in the Israeli army, this requirement is a euphemism for being Jewish—further restricting job opportunities.

In addition,  Israel ranks local councils and municipalities according to a ten point socio-economic scale: cluster 10 represents the wealthiest localities, and cluster 1 the poorest towns. The 75 Arab localities in the state make up around 87% of all localities within clusters 1-3, around 72% of all localities within clusters 1-4, and 0% of the most prosperous localities in the country, clusters 7-10. As a consequence, the services provided by local authorities are generally both scarcer and of poorer quality in Arab localities.

The Israeli government has proposed no answer to this discrimination. On the opposite, the eviction of Palestinians from their land, and their resettlement in shanty towns is reaching historical heights and no development solutions are proposed for Arab localities. The new plan is not just an innocent attempt to curb crime in Arab localities—rather crime is being used to justify a larger presence of police forces that will deepen repression and curb the right of the Palestinian citizens to voice their protest of Israeli policies.

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