State Comptroller’s report highlights police, intelligence failures during Arab riots

A sense of personal security must be restored to mixed Jewish-Arab cities after last year’s violence, says State Comptroller.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The State Comptroller’s report on violence in mixed Arab-Jewish cities during last year’s Operation Guardian of the Walls pointed to a string of failures on the part of the police and Israeli intelligence.

State Comptroller Matanya Englman’s report examined the state’s response to the Arab-Israeli violence. Several days of riots, particularly in three people were killed and hundreds injured. There was also extensive property damage.

The rioting came amidst Israel’s 11-day battle with Hamas after barrages of rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip.

It what would come as no surprise especially to the Jewish residents of Lod and Ramle, the two hardest-hit cities, Englman wrote that “the violent riots during ‘Guardian of the Walls’ revealed significant deficiencies in the police’s activities.”

“These caused serious injury to the most basic personal security to which the citizens of the country are entitled. Law enforcement officials must correct the significant deficiencies in order to prevent their recurrence,” he urged, and restore citizens’ trust in the police.

In real time, the Jews in several neighborhoods of the centrally located towns charged that the police did not respond to calls for help when hundreds of Arabs set cars, apartments and even synagogues aflame, threw rocks and in general terrorized their erstwhile neighbors.

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The report backed them up, stating that the police hotline collapsed and thousands of calls went completely unanswered, while thousands more received inadequate responses, with no units being sent to areas under siege.

The report found that the police did not have the manpower, especially Arab-speakers, nor the riot-dispersal, protective and communications equipment to deal with the “multi-scene disorders.” They did not have a system in place that could monitor social networks, where a great deal of incitement to violence takes place. It also took two days after the rioting began to formulate an operational picture of what was happening, and several days until reinforcements arrived.

Other crucial intelligence that could have helped the authorities prepare for the riots ahead of time or even while they were taking place was missing due to significant gaps in both the division of responsibilities and the lack of communication between the police and the Shabak, the report stated.

The Shabak was criticized as well, for assessing that the rising tensions it identified on the Arab “street” would be focused on Jerusalem, while giving no warning of the outbreak of violence in other mixed cities in Israel. Its online monitoring, which was better than that of the police, also had gaps that became significant during the May events.

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Engelman also found that of the 3,000 Arabs who had been arrested for their actions, less than 20% had indictments filed against them, which does damage to the deterrence factor in the future. He blamed the low numbers on the insufficient documentation capabilities of the police, the lack of experienced investigators, and again, of those proficient in Arabic.

Recommendations for the future in the report included: More and better-qualified manpower, upgrading the police intelligence system, improving cooperation with other intelligence bodies, strengthening the reserve system of the Border Police and getting the State Attorney’s office to “exhaust prosecution procedures for those involved in incidents of violation of public order on racial or nationalistic grounds.”

The Comptroller’s report did not deal at all with the responsibilities of those in relevant government positions at the time, even though it castigated, for example, the delay in sending the Border Police into the cities as reinforcements to help cut short the riots, which was first and foremost a political decision.

The State Comptroller’s office inspects, reviews and audits the policies and operations of the Israeli government. Engelman is also investigating the Meron disaster.

Other recent comptroller reports have spotlighted issues such as Israel’s mothballed “Air Force One,” earthquake preparedness, Shin Bet tracking of people with COVID, and inadequate security for Israeli settlements and border communities.

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