During the recent Gaza war, Israelis were surprised by the riots that took place in mixed Jewish-Arab cities, primarily against Jews, as well as their intensity. But the biggest surprise was the inability and sometimes unwillingness of the police to deal with the large number of rabble-rousers.
Thousands of rioters took to the streets in the mixed Jewish-Arab cities of Lod, Ramla, Acco and Haifa. Cars and businesses were burned, and in the Negev the Bedouin lynched Jews with little intervention by the police, who seemed unable to maintain control. Last week, Israel implemented ’Operation Law and Order” under the direction of Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.
The riots exposed the weakness and incompetence of the police, and Operation Law and Order aimed to hold those involved to account for serious crimes against the state, such as possession and trafficking in weapons, arson, property destruction, affiliation with criminal organizations and financial crimes. The objectives of the operation were to restore police readiness and restore calm within the borders of the State of Israel. What was special about this operation was the involvement of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), signaling that these riots are considered not only criminal, but crimes against the State of Israel.
The first step taken was the arrest of Sheikh Kamal Khatib, deputy chairman of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, who incited much of the violence in Israel. This man is known to be one of the main agitators against Israel, as well as against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He was the first to oppose the Abraham Accords, and counts himself among those Muslims who advocate the establishment of an ISIS-style caliphate.
In the past week, the Israel Police, together with the Shin Bet, carried out more than 2,000 arrests. The detainees are accused of rioting, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces, launching fireworks at soldiers and civilians, assaulting police officers, and possession of illegal weapons.
Police Commissioner Shabtai said last week: “We are in the midst of operation ‘Law and Order,’ a large-scale operation across the country which is achieving its goal of bringing to justice those involved in riots and violent and crimes in recent weeks. We will continue throughout the next week with an emphasis on arresting the vigilantes and locating illegal weapons.”
In opposition, some in the Arab community are saying that the police want to take a stand now in order to cover up their own inanity and failure to deal with the riots. Arab Knesset members are outraged by the Shin Bet’s involvement in the operation, wondering why the Arab residents are not treated as civilians, but as terrorists. The involvement of the Shin Bet is proof that these are terrorist acts, something which is being denied in the Arab sector.
This operation proved largely successful thanks to the Police being able to lean on the Shin Bet and thousands of Border Police officers recruited to aid in the arrests.
Police officials have been complaining of a lack of standards and budgets, and they further argue that the courts often take the side of the rioters, releasing them quickly from prison and thus undermining any sense of deterrence.
The State of Israel is not France, where everyone who sets fire to a car must be arrested and is required to pay compensation to the owner of the vehicle. The Israeli Arab rioters will return to the streets on a larger scale if there is not severe enough punishment to deter them.