Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Police, Politics, and Culture in a Deeply Divided Society

Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Police, Politics, and Culture in a Deeply Divided Society

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

A review of the academic literature in the field of police-minority relations in deeply divided societies reveals that tense relations between the minority and the police are a frequent phenomenon. One of the sources of this tension is the political and social marginality of the minority, which is most often accompanied by unbalanced and unfair policing. (l) Researchers emphasize the centrality of the political variable in understanding police-minority interactions in deeply divided societies. In fact, often hovering above deeply divided democratic societies is the question of the legitimacy of the political regime in the eyes of the minority group.

The tense relations between the Arab minority in Israel and the police are common knowledge. Throughout the history of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel, this tension was sharply brought into relief in several mass political events, with the most violent example in October 2000. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon paid a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, an act perceived by the Arab minority as violating the sanctity of the Al-Aksa Mosque. The visit incited eight days of violent riots that ended with twelve Arab citizens dead, all of them by police gunfire. This event emphasized the influence of political variables on minority relations with the police in Israel, and yet this is not the sole variable on which we should focus.

In deeply divided societies where divisions are also based on different ethnicities, emphasis is put on the cultural distinction between the majority and the minority. This distinction is liable to find its expression in the cultural perception of governmental institutions, including the police. The impact of cultural pluralism on police-minority relations is reinforced due to the under-representation of members of the minority in the police force. The combination of these factors exacerbates the cultural disparity between the service-providers--police officers who belong to the majority group--and service-users--members of the minority group. We can assume that where there is greater cultural disparity between the majority and minority, there will be greater tension in minority-police relations. The Israeli-Arab minority is a native, traditional minority that differs significantly in culture from the Jewish majority, who are culturally Western-oriented. This cultural distinction, and not just political variables, will be reflected in minority attitudes toward the police.

This Article aims to evaluate the impact of political and cultural variables on minority perceptions of the police in deeply divided societies. First, I will try to illustrate the distinction between political and cultural variables and explain how making this distinction facilitates a better understanding of police-minority relations in deeply divided societies. Then I will compare the attitudes of Israeli Arabs and Jews toward the police and turn to the core of this Article: an in-depth analysis of the attitudes of different Arab sub-groups (Muslims, Christians, and Druze) toward the Israeli police. In so doing, I wish to elaborate upon the cultural explanations for the existing tension, along with the more obvious political reasons.

II. POLITICS VERSUS CULTURE

When analyzing police-minority relations, the line between political and cultural variables can become quite vague. Nevertheless, I will try to argue that there is an analytical distinction between the two variables that has significant ramifications on police-minority relations. The political aspect in police-minority relations becomes manifest when we ask the following questions: How do minority groups perceive the role of the police in the construction of the (controversial) socio-political order? What is the image of the police in society? What do the police represent among minority groups? Are the police there "to protect and to serve" or "to chase after and repress"? …

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