Arab-Israeli cops, witnesses live in fear as criminal organizations strengthen grip on Arab cities

With criminal organizations essentially ruling Arab communities, Arab-Israeli cops and prosecution witnesses are subject to harassment and violence.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Arab-Israeli law enforcement officers, alongside Arab-Israeli witnesses who testify in criminal trials on behalf of the prosecution, are in fear for their lives as crime surges out of control in their communities, according to new reports in Hebrew-language media.

These police officers face threats of violence, harassment, and shunning by their neighbors. And individuals who testify against criminal gangs are subject to even worse.

As crime continues to run rampant in Arab Israeli cities, the government must step up and increase their efforts to protect both Arab cops and witnesses, critics say.

Social suicide

“When I enlisted in the police I did not imagine what price I would pay for it, not even in my worst nightmare,” Ahmed, an Israeli Arab police officer told Ynet.

He said he joined the police in order to combat crime in his hometown, but quickly came to the realization that his career made him a social pariah, thanks to the grip that criminal organizations maintain on Arab cities.

Because the criminal gangs are so powerful, he explained, people did not want to befriend him.

Ahmed said the family of a woman to whom he was betrothed broke off the engagement, fearing that serious harm could befall her because of her marriage to a police officer.

Eventually, he was forced out of his home, due to concerns that his presence was endangering the rest of his family.

“I moved into this apartment [in another city] following concrete threats to my life,” he told Ynet.

“I sleep with an open eye for fear that someone will do something to me,” he said, adding that he does not tell people from his hometown where he is currently living.

‘They would have murdered me’

“If they took me back in time, I would not have enlisted in the police, a million percent. Not considering becoming a police officer, [it was] a waste of time. Nearly two decades of my life I wasted,” said George, who served as an investigator for upwards of 20 years.

Although George said he was respected by his community when he was on active duty, after retiring, he immediately felt a dramatic shift in public sentiment towards him.

“When I stepped down, they looked at me as a traitor [to the Arab community]. If only they had a chance, they would have murdered me,” he told Ynet.

“An Arab man who enlists in the police ruins the lives of his children. A respectable person will not want to contact him and will not let him marry his daughter.”

George recounted an incident in 2018 in which he was attacked on the street in his hometown by someone he had once investigated. But despite multiple witnesses, the case against his assailant was closed due to lack of evidence.

The lack of interference by the police deeply stings, George said. He added that not punishing the perpetrator sends a green light to criminals that they can harass former or current police officers and get away with it, scot-free.

Witnesses silenced

In an op-ed published in Hebrew-language Israel Hayom, Arab Israeli journalist Jalal Bana insisted that the time has come for Israel’s Witness Protection Program to step up its efforts to safeguard state witnesses from the Arab community.

Bana acknowledged that the Israel police and prosecutors often have difficulty securing Arab Israelis who are willing to speak out in court against criminals.

The dearth of available witnesses often derails criminal cases and makes it more difficult for criminals to be held to account.

But, Bana said, part of the reason for the reluctance to testify stems from what he says is an insufficient effort on the part of the government to protect Arab witnesses who risk their lives, families, and social standing when they appear in court.

Recently, he wrote, “several prosecution witnesses were killed in Umm El-Fahm, Tira, and Kfar Qassem.”

As “the police, and above all the State of Israel, failed miserably when they failed to protect those witnesses,” it’s no surprise that people are unwilling to come forward about crimes they’ve seen, he charged.

Murders have spiked in Israel’s Arab community, reaching an all-time high in 2021.