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Israeli Police 'turning a blind eye to killing spree'

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Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, said seven new police stations had been opened in Palestinian communities in the past few years and that there were plans for another eight to open in the next year.

'Destroyed from within'

But one of the protest organisers in Nazareth, where there are already two big police stations, said the problem was not just a lack of policing, it also involved the wrong kind of policing.

Kamar Khutaba, a 27-year-old sports teacher, told MEE: "Palestinian blood doesn't matter to the police. They know how to tackle crime in our communities but they choose not to.

"We are telling the police either do your job properly or get out. Our society is being destroyed from within and the police are allowing it to happen."

In Jisr al-Zarqa, a poor Palestinian village on Israel's Mediterranean coast where gun crime is now rampant, the local council leader told Haaretz last month that he had been wrong to support the opening of a police station in his community.

"We made absolutely no progress," Amash Morad Fathi said, stating that gun crime and the drugs trade were worse than ever. "The police have no leads," he added, noting that the police had not located a single gun.

He regretted ignoring warnings from fellow council members that the police would use their presence as a pretext to "suffocate" the village by setting up roadblocks and issuing traffic fines.

Abu Ras observed that the police station was only operational during daylight hours. "That's useless when 90 percent of the crime takes place at night," he said.

'Fight against terror'

What is urgently needed, Palestinian leaders in Israel agree, is a dramatic change in police culture.

In his response to the protests, Erdan equated the fight against criminal violence in Israel's Palestinian communities to the "fight against terrorism". A Haaretz editorial warned that it was a sign that Erdan and the government continue to view Palestinian citizens as "an internal enemy".

Even if Palestinian leaders in Israel cannot influence regional issues, such as the peace process, they want to advance the basic civic rights of their community. The question is whether it can be done inside a self-declared Jewish state.

Odeh broke with a long-standing political tradition of the Palestinian community in Israel when he chose sides last month in the ongoing coalition negotiations over forming a Zionist government. He recommended Benny Gantz, a former army chief of staff and head of the Blue and White party, over Netanyahu for prime minister.

Gantz has indicated he may be prepared to make concessions on civic, if not the national, rights of Palestinians in Israel. Nonetheless, improving policing in Israel's Palestinian communities may prove a tall order.

Abu Ras and others note that the police still see their role chiefly in ethnic terms as protecting the Jewish public from a supposed Palestinian menace, both in Israel and in the occupied territories.

"The difficulty is that policing towards the Arab community in Israel is not seen primarily in civic terms, as preventing crime, but in security terms, as dealing with a national threat," he said.

"That whole approach has to change, otherwise the criminal gangs in Arab communities will continue to grow stronger."

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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