police attack al aqsa mosque jerusalem
© AP Photo / Mahmoud IlleanPalestinians run away from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City Monday, May 10, 2021
Senior officer reportedly blames security service for tying force's hands by giving immunity to leaders behind violent crime; agency says accusation 'false, has no basis'

A senior police officer has reportedly claimed that police are limited in their ability to respond to violent crimes in the Arab Israeli community because those leading the violence "are mostly Shin Bet informants." The security service immediately denied the claim.

According to a report by Channel 13 news on Wednesday, the comment was made in a recent high-level meeting at the Israel Police national headquarters in preparation for a separate meeting held earlier in the day between Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev.

lod riots israel mixed city protest police
© Yossi Aloni/Flash90Police are seen in Lod during ethnic rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city in central Israel, May 12, 2021
According to the report, the police representative in the meeting blamed the Shin Bet security service for the police force's apparent inability to deal with spiraling violent crime in the Arab Israeli sector and the recent surge in ethnic riots and violence in mixed Jewish and Arab cities.

"The criminals who are currently leading the serious crime in Arab society are mostly Shin Bet informants and in this situation, the police are bound because those informants, who enjoy immunity, cannot be touched," the unnamed senior officer was reported to have said.

The issue of crime in the Israeli Arab sector and the fact that the police do not have the appropriate tools to deal with it was raised in Wednesday's meeting between Shabtai and Barlev, the report said, without giving details on the positions presented.

Responding to the report, the Shin Bet said that the allegation that most of those involved in violent crime were informants for the agency was "false, has no basis and no connection with factual data" of recent indictments.

"Shin Bet activity in recent months has led to the arrest of hundreds of suspects who have been prosecuted, dozens of them for serious terrorist offenses with nationalist motivation," Channel 12 quoted the response from the security service.

Last month saw massive riots break out in many so-called mixed Israeli cities, home to large numbers of both Arabs and Jews, during an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Though not unprecedented, the internecine violence was some of the worst in Israel's history, bringing to the surface long-simmering conflicts between Arab and Jewish Israelis.
lod riots mixed cities
Aftermath of the riot in the mixed city of Lod, May 18 2021
Police came under heavy criticism for failing to control the Arab and Jewish rioting within mixed cities for long days โ€” most notably in Lod โ€” leading to the call-up of additional forces, including Border Police reservists.

The issue of violent crime within the Arab Israeli sector, however, has been a central complaint of the community for a number of years, with 96 Arab Israelis killed in violent crime in 2018, by far the highest annual toll in recent memory.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced at the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel would implement a national plan to tackle the crime in the country's Arab sector.

"I spoke this morning with the public security minister and we agreed on the formulation of a national plan to fight crime in the Arab community as soon as possible," said Bennett during the meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. "We will do this in all dimensions: civil, economic and, of course, criminal. This is, first of all, the desire of the community itself and it is of course an overall national interest."

Bennett made his comments after five Arab Israeli citizens were killed in deadly shootings in the prior four days. The prime minister noted that since the start of 2021, "dozens of people have been murdered in the Arab community."

"The violence in the Arab community is a blight on the country that has been neglected for many years," Bennett added. "Responsibility for fighting this is on our shoulders. This is a national mission."

The Islamist Ra'am Party, which joined Bennett's government coalition, ran on a platform of tackling violence in Israel's Arab communities. When Ra'am signed a coalition agreement in early June, it noted that Bennett and his coalition partner, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, agreed to provide NIS 2.5 million ($770,000) to fight violence and organized crime in Arab society.