Israel focuses on crime wave

An Israeli policeman checks the handbag of a prostitute near the diamond exchange in Tel Aviv on May 27. (Brian Hendler)

An Israeli policeman checks the handbag of a prostitute near the diamond exchange in Tel Aviv on May 27. (Brian Hendler)

JERUSALEM, June 5 (JTA) — With a lull in Palestinian terrorism holding, another form of violence is plaguing Israelis’ lives: street crime. A wave of murders, most with mysterious motives, has garnered media headlines in recent weeks. On Sunday, the sense of public fear finally reached the halls of power. “As far as I’m concerned, violence — including road accidents — is one of the most awful of the phenomena we witness every day,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet as it convened for its weekly meeting. “We will take steps and not just talk. I want us to leave here with solutions that are put into action.” Israel’s police chief, Inspector General Moshe Karadi, briefed the ministers on a troubling trend: The last five months saw a 34 percent increase in murders over the same period last year, with youths accounting for a greater share of the violence. Sociologists and criminologists attribute the phenomenon to a variety of causes — deepening poverty and disparities between various sectors of society, the pressures of Israel’s tenuous security situation, and even media depictions of violence. Some see it as inevitable that the Jewish state join other Western nations with similar social ills. “For four decades, Israeli society has been proud of its very low levels of criminality,” said Haifa University sociologist Aryeh Ratner. “It could be said that we, as a society, are just undergoing a normative change.” As far as Karadi is concerned, action is needed. He asked the Cabinet to boost budgets for the national police, which is currently more than $125 million in debt and faces 2,000 job cuts after Israel completes its looming withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. “Now that there is relative calm” on the Palestinian front , “we should redirect our efforts from fighting terrorism to fighting crime,” Karadi told Channel Two television Saturday. Sharon ordered the personnel cutbacks halted. “Don’t let any policemen go,” he told Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra. “If needed, I’ll put this matter to a Cabinet vote.” Ezra was also appointed to lead an new interministerial committee that Sharon has asked to design a anti-crime program within three weeks. As far as the police are concerned, Israel could do worse than follow the example of New York, which has seen crime reduced to historic lows. “A cop on every corner would work miracles for public order,” Yossi Sedbon, head of intelligence in the Israel Police, told Army Radio. Ratner disagreed. “There is no quick-fix solution,” he said. “Crises are part of Israeli society, and we will continue to be a violent society as long as these crises persist. That’s not optimism, but it’s reality.”

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