Last Monday just before 7 A.M., detectives from the police station in the central Israeli Arab city of Taibeh entered a local home to conduct a search. They went into a bedroom where a 17-year-old boy was sleeping. The police told him to get up, and when they turned over his mattress, they found a loaded gun. The boy told the police he had gotten the weapon after being threatened by a number of other young men in town.
But some residents of Taibeh have had it with the way any kid who wants to get into crime only has to pick a side.
Such residents include 38 teenagers who took part this past year in a young leadership program, the brainchild of police Maj. Gen. Bentzi Sau, commander of the central district.
Duria Abu Eita, deputy director of the Taibeh Municipality's education department, said that when she was first approached about the idea, she turned it down because she figured people in Taibeh would see it as a prelude to signing the kids up for national civil service, a controversial issue in the Arab community.
But changes were made in the program, and for a year the teenagers met every few days for classes, mostly run by a criminologist, Rami Natur, from the nearby city of Kalansua.
"With these kids, if somebody goes to jail, he's considered a hero. This is the attitude we have to change," Natur said.
Part of the program was to expose the teenagers to places in the police station that young people in the Arab community rarely see. They sat at the police switchboard and heard people call in with complaints, so they would understand that calling the police did not mean they were informing on anyone.
At the concluding ceremony in the local community center, each participant signed a covenant pledging to "guard the public good without reference to family or political affiliation."
In a complex city like Taibeh, that is no small thing.
"We live in a violent city, and murder is on the rise and the police do not help us like them by the way they deal with it," Salah Jaber, 18, said.
Abu-Eita tries to quiet Jaber, then asks us not to bring up the subject of national civilian service, and "because of the harsh reality in Taibeh, to please ask questions that do not put the children at risk."
But Jaber and the other boys seem to have no fear of talking.
"Today we have to build our trust in the police and they in us so we can deal with the serious problems in Taibeh," Jaber continued. "There's no doubt the course raised our awareness of the police and its desire to do good things, but I really hope the course taught the police something about us."
"You have to understand where this lack of trust comes from," Lina Tibi, 17, cuts in. Tibi's father is a cousin of MK Ahmed Tibi, who is against national civilian service for Arabs.
"If I'm walking down the street in Taibeh and I see a cop, I try to run the other way so he doesn't take me to the station," she said. "That never happened, but people who grow up in Taibeh can't help but think like that."
Jaber said: "There are good kids who carry around a knife because they're afraid they'll be attacked."
Tibi said it was right not to let people know the course was underway. "When it was over and everybody started hearing about it, I started getting a lot of harsh criticism," she said, including being called a collaborator and being accused of trying to get young people to join the police.
Also present was Dima Taya, 20, from Kalansua, a volunteer at the Taibeh police station who was wearing a police uniform. When talk turned to national civilian service, she spoke up for the first time.
"I grew up in a school where a teacher used to tell us that we didn't have an air conditioner because the Jews took all our money to build their school," Taya said. "The teachers never told the kids that the money the municipality had was stolen by the mayors who in the end were convicted of graft. Nobody explained that if no one pays city taxes we won't have nicer schools."
The gap in outlook between Taya and the other kids was huge. Still, the new commander of the Taibeh police station, Chief Superintendent David Filo, says: "Getting to know them and them getting to know us is very important," he said.
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