Adalah demands Israel abolish paramilitary police unit that uses racial profiling to target Bedouin citizens

With establishment of highly-militarized ‘Yoav’ police unit, Israel institutionalizes two separate ‘law enforcement’ approaches dictated by ethnicity and race – one for Jewish citizens and a separate one for Arab Bedouin citizens.

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel is demanding that Israel abolish a highly-militarized police unit tasked almost exclusively with enforcement in the Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) region that actively and overtly employs a discriminatory policy of racial profiling.


Officers from the Israeli police “Yoav Unit” riding an ATV in the Naqab region (Screengrab: Israel Police/Facebook)


In a 5 November 2020 letter, Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, and interim Israel Police Commissioner Moti Cohen act to dismantle the “Yoav Unit” which, according to an Israeli police report, was established in 2011 as a dedicated unit “that assists in the enforcement and implementation of policy regulating Bedouin localities in the Negev.”


Israel’s Yoav police unit is tasked with assisting a variety of Israeli state authorities involved with regulating and enforcing land use and construction regulations in the Naqab region, including Bedouin “invasions of public lands and use of public lands without a lawful permit”, as defined by Israeli state authorities.


According to a video on the Israel Police’s Facebook page, the highly-militarized unit “assists the police and Israeli military forces in their ongoing security activities – as a routine and during emergencies”.


An officer from the Israeli police “Yoav Unit” participates in military-style training. (Screengrab: Israel Police/Facebook)


Paramilitary Yoav unit officers carried out the deadly 2017 home demolition raid in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran that resulted in the police shooting death of 50-year-old math teacher Ya’akub Abu al-Qi’an.


The Yoav unit’s intelligence section also conducts relentless interrogations intended to pressure Bedouin citizens whose homes are earmarked for demolition into either destroying their own homes or accepting a settlement from the state, generally resulting in their displacement to a new location and demolition of their home.


Despite having issued official reports on these activities, Israeli police actually have no legal authority to undertake such action.


The role played by race and ethnicity in the operations of Israel’s Yoav Unit is clear:


While a 2016 Israeli police report identified two population groups involved in illegal construction – 1) the Jewish agricultural kibbutz and moshav communities; and 2) the Bedouin community – it nevertheless established only one unit to deal with this phenomenon, targeting the Bedouin community almost exclusively.


The establishment of a dedicated police unit for the purpose of “law enforcement” amongst a specific population based on ethnicity is problematic in and of itself. Further, Israel’s Yoav Unit was established in violation of the principle of the rule of law for two reasons: there is no primary Israeli legislation that authorizes this type of designation for a police unit; and the Yoav Unit actively employs racial profiling.


With the establishment of the Yoav Unit, Israel has in fact institutionalized two separate “law enforcement” approaches dictated by ethnic/racial affiliation:


  1. The first approach – intended for the general Israeli population – is based on general enforcement-related laws;
  2. The second approach – targeting Bedouin citizens – relies on a dedicated police unit (Yoav Unit) employing evictions and home demolitions as a "source of power" to apply pressure on the Bedouin community, as described by the Israeli police force in a letter dated 10 December 2019.


Israel’s Police and General Powers Ordinance does not authorize any government body to establish a dedicated unit operating upon the principles of racial profiling and/or that operates according to the ethnic identities of the country’s citizens. The ordinance likewise does not authorize any state body to establish separate enforcement approaches for different communities.


In comparison: American policing & racism, from slavery till George Floyd


Race – and racism – have historically played a formative role in the creation of police forces in the United States and in the determination of their primary responsibilities.


According to Time magazine, “some of the primary policing institutions there [in the American South] were the slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts … During Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.”


While – unlike the case of Israel’s Yoav unit – U.S. police forces no longer openly declare their intentional targeting of racial minorities, the residual effect of the historical racial basis for policing in the United States nevertheless continues to impact American society in 2020.


A May 2020 study published in Nature, A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States, analyzed 95 million traffic stop records filed by officers with 21 state patrol agencies and 35 municipal police forces from 2011 to 2018, and found that “police stops and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias.”


The recent racial justice protests in the United States, driven by police killings of George Floyd and other racial minorities, have led to widespread calls for restructuring – or outright abolition – of police forces.


CLICK HERE to read the letter [Hebrew]