This evening an Ultra-Orthodox soldier on his way home was attacked by Ultra-Orthodox residents of Jerusalem. When the police came to his rescue, they were pelted with rocks. Why is this not surprising?
First of all, this is not unexpected because the Ultra-Orthodox have become more and more violent and aggressive, especially to those of their own who are showing signs of waking up to the need to contribute to the society in which they live. In a meeting last week of the Knesset’s Foreign Relations and Armed Forces Committee, tens of examples were given of these kinds of attacks, including an assault on one of the rabbis who supports the Nachal Haredi army unit (Netzach Yehuda). Police representatives listened attentively, giving assurances that they were addressing the problem.
All this occurs when there are under 2,000 Ultra-Orthodox soldiers — with plans to draft thousands more as the army deals with the cancellation of the Tal Law and the tens of thousands of exemptions it provided for yeshiva students. The country has a moral responsibility to do all it can to protect its soldiers, from enemies within as well as from without. It must also do far more to address the growing violence within the Ultra-Orthodox community, and deal with the many young delinquents that are increasingly in the public eye. The horrifying racist attack carried out against innocent Arab bypassers in Jerusalem’s “Cat Square” last year was perpetrated by Ultra-Orthodox youths who were convicted earlier this week. The proportion of crimes attributed to this population is rapidly rising but the police remain reticent and have proven incapable of dealing with them appropriately.
Second, the police force is clearly not big enough, strong enough, or well-enough equipped to keep order in the country. Much has justifiably been written about the deterioration in health, education and welfare services, but the country’s warped priorities are also evident in the country’s police force. The police rarely enters East Jerusalem out of fear of exacerbating tensions in the Arab neighborhoods, and in the past has refused to enter Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods for similar reasons; together with feminist friends, I sued the police several years ago for turning down our request for police protection in Mea Shearim; we won. Other large areas of the country are also not covered: anyone who reads Sayed Kashua’s columns knows there are terrible problems in large Arab villages like Taibeh, and in any city run by Ultra-Orthodox rabbis the police are also reluctant to enter, even in serious cases of arson such as have occurred in parts of Jerusalem. In parts of south Tel Aviv now filled with asylum-seekers, local residents feel the police have abandoned them. In Arab villages, just as in south Tel Aviv, residents have been begging for a greater police presence, but budget cuts have been introduced instead of more officers.
It may be strange for a die-hard leftist to be advocating for a strengthened police force, but law and order are important needs for everyone. Although overall crime rates in Israel are considerably lower than in the U.S., where there are 142 robberies per 100,000 people, 8th place in the OECD (Israel doesn’t even appear in the top 20) there is a very uneven distribution. In poor neighborhoods where petty crime and drugs are more common, needs are even greater; in these places no one can afford reinforced doors, alarm systems or private security services. Of course, these needs would be considerably less if the government were investing more in education, welfare and other services that would bring about a drop in the crime rate, but until these matters are dealt with satisfactorily, far greater efforts should be made to guarantee basic personal safety. Everyone should at least be able to sleep soundly at night and not fear for his or her children coming home; the neglect of personal security is symptomatic of the government’s disregard for the citizen’s basic needs and rights.