Israel: A Time of Change

On Aug. 9, the “Tel Aviv Serial Rapist,” who has the city’s women looking over their shoulders in fear, evidently tried to commit his 10th rape in the last six months, but police say he let his pleading victim go, and ran off. On the same day, Police Minister Avigdor Kahalani advised Israelis to do two patrol shifts a month with the volunteer Civil Guard in their towns and cities.

“Every Israeli citizen has to understand that if he doesn’t help protect himself, the police will be ineffective,” Kahalani said.

Referring to the tens of thousands of annual car thefts committed by Palestinians in Israeli cities, especially Jerusalem, Kfar Saba and other cities near the Green Line, the minister said, “Until a border is built between us and the Palestinians, we’re going to have to guard our houses ourselves, like we did when we created the State of Israel and the period when we were living in tents.”

Last month, Kahalani thought that he had solved the country’s worst murder problem, by inducing one of two warring Israeli Arab clans in the Ramle neighborhood of Juarish to move out. But three weeks ago, a member of a third clan in the neighborhood, the Abu Labans, was murdered. And two weeks ago, a 16-year-old girl belonging to yet a fourth clan in the neighborhood, the Mugrabis, was shot to death while sleeping in her room.

Police discounted that the girl’s murder came in revenge for the Abu Laban killing, and surmised that it was one more “honor killing” of an Israeli Arab female. This is still another ingredient in Israel’s crime cocktail: Israeli Arab women being murdered by a male relative, usually a brother, seeking to expunge the “stain” she left on the family’s honor by violating the strict Arab code of female sexual morality.

Legend has it that once upon a time, up until about the late 1960s, Israel was so safe from crime that people didn’t even lock their doors when they went out. But that was when the country was still in thrall to the values of nation-building and one-for-all, all-for-one. It was also a time when there wasn’t much in the country worth stealing.

Then, after the Six-Day War, came the debut of property. And television. And competition and status-seeking. The 1980s saw the entry into Israel, mainly via Lebanon, of hard drugs. By the 1990s, the Zionist Puritan ethic had waned, and the new philosophy was every man for himself. Combine this with the steadily rising unemployment of the last two years and the steadily growing income gap between the rich and poor, and it’s no surprise that crime in Israel is now entrenched and rapidly growing.

Last week, Israel police released the crime figures for the first half of 1998 and compared them to the first half of 1997. Overall crime, the statistics showed, went up 12.5 percent.Within that figure, break-ins went up 14.5 percent; robberies up 13.5 percent; drug busts up 10 percent; juvenile arrests up 15 percent; rapes up 8.9 percent.

The only relatively encouraging statistic in the table was for murders, which had only gone up 1.1 percent. The body count for the first six months of 1998 stood at 91.

Israel remains a much safer place than America. There is no such thing as an Israeli neighborhood, at least a Jewish neighborhood, where people are afraid to walk at night. (Tel Aviv is currently the exception to that rule, and will remain so until the serial rapist is captured or desists.) With 6 million people, a murder rate of less than 200 a year is beyond the dreams of even Rudolph Giuliani.

Without much of a clue on how to change the social causes of crime, Israeli officials turned to law-and-order solutions: mainly beefing up the police department. Knesset Member Micha Goldman (Labor) came up with the idea of taking 5,000 unemployed people and putting them on the police force. Police Chief Yehuda Wilk responded that while the police force needed new officers, not just any Yossi, Motti or Gabi would do.

He also noted that the Israeli police force, which numbers about 14,000, had added 1,000 new officers over the last year. But former Police Chief Ya’acov Terner said that the force was so understaffed that it needed to about double the size in order to be effective.

Adi Eldar, mayor of the Galilee city of Karmiel and head of the association of Israeli municipalities, said that the police couldn’t fight crime properly, because they were constantly being called on to supplement the army in defending the populace against terror attacks, especially in Jerusalem.