Sharon police Commander Kobi Shabtai had barely made his introduction to reporters at the sub-district headquarters in Kfar Saba on Monday morning, when he started to come under fire.
“The police don’t pay any attention to us, you don’t give us access like the Hebrew press”, said a female reporter for a major Arabic radio station describing her inability to find police investigators or spokespeople to talk to at murder scenes or to get on the phone afterwards.
She mentioned an incident on the eve of the municipal elections in which two bodies were found murdered and torched in a car in Taibe, a crime that made waves in the Arab sector but was lightly reported in the Hebrew press.
She described being on the scene before the Hebrew press, and unable to find an officer willing to speak to her.
“Then Ch. 2 showed up with their crew and next thing I see the police are being interviewed and giving them information.”
An Arab-Israeli reporter for Ynet confirmed what she said, as did an Arab-Israeli reporter for Israel Radio. All three said they are often on the scene before the Hebrew press and at times police, but find themselves still unable to get nearly as much information from the cops as their Hebrew counterparts.
The reporters said they’re also not in the WhatsApp group run by the Sharon spokesperson, and not always invited to briefings with police commanders.
This is an old, familiar problem between police and the Arab sector.
In November, the National Police Headquarters held a rare briefing between the press and the head of the Police Intelligence and Investigations branch Meni Yitzhaki. The subject was the ongoing mob war in the south, which was making major headlines in Israel and even abroad following the car bombs in Ashkelon. All of the major outlets were there, except for the Arab press. This is despite the fact that gang warfare is a constant problem in the Arab sector, even if such killings are often described by police and the press as being “family-related”.
One reporter present on Monday told me last week about a conference he spoke at in an Arab village this month dealing with the relationship between police and the media. He said the event was attended by a wide array of media figures and community leaders from the Arab sectors, as well as Israeli journalists. Who wasn’t present? A representative of the police.
He also related how one of the Arab reporters told him how following a recent gangland killing in an Arab village he came to speak to police investigators about the crime and was invited into a side room, where detectives allegedly tried to turn him into a source, seeing him more as a local Arab with street level intelligence than a reporter with a readership to serve.
There is probably no other segment of society in which the relationship with police is more complicated, loaded, and important than that of the Arab sector. They are the victims of violent crime more than any other segment of society and their towns and villages are awash in illegal firearms and seriously under-policed. Nonetheless, they are not made part of the loop as much as the Hebrew press, and even, from personal experience, as much as the English press (in this case, the Jerusalem Post).
Very few Israeli police or Jewish Israelis read the Arab press, and have little concept of the influence it has on some 20% of the country’s population, especially news sites like Panet, which are widely read both inside and outside the borders of Israel.
With violent crime still a scourge of Arab communities in Israel, police must increase their efforts to reach out to the press that serves them, especially in places like the Sharon, which includes the crime-plagued towns of “the Triangle” region like Taibe, Kalansua, and Kfar Qassem.
There was a happy ending on Monday though – Leaving the police station my phone beeped a WhatsApp notification – the Arabic radio reporter had just been added to the Sharon sub-district group.