Sixteen senior Israeli policemen are being brought to Britain to take part in a special training programme to improve their relations with the country’s Arab citizens.
The brigadier-generals, one of whom may become the head of the Israeli police force, will spend five days at the end of November with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and four days with the Metropolitan Police in London.
The trip has been organised by the Abraham Fund Initiative (AFI), which is dedicated to improving co-existence between Israelis and Arabs living in Israel.
Leo Williams, manager of the UK Friends of AFI, said: “We have been bringing Israeli police here for a number of years and this is by far the most senior group we have had. It demonstrates how seriously the Israeli police force views its relations with Arabs living in Israel.”
Mr Williams explained that AFI was approached by the Israel Police Force to help it implement the recommendations of the Or Commission, appointed in 2000 to investigate the circumstances of a demonstration when 12 Arabs were shot by Israeli police.
“What emerged was that the police regarded Arab society as enemies to be controlled rather than citizens to be served,” said Mr Williams.
“They came to us because of our work on co-existence since 1989 and we’ve been working with them ever since.”
The tour starts in Northern Ireland because the PSNI, said Mr Williams, has undergone radical changes as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. The officers will visit the police college in Belfast to look at its leadership programmes and will cover equality, diversity and human rights.
In London the group will go to Scotland Yard for an overview of the Metropolitan Police. Then they will meet members of the Association of Muslim Police, one of the many staff ethnic groups inside the Met, followed by a session on the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. They will meet members of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the body that oversees the Met and learn how the Met polices ethnic minorities. They will also learn about Independent Advisory Groups, the bodies in each London borough which advise local police on community problems.
Mr Williams said the annual visits were already showing results. “There was a demonstration recently in Umm al-Fahm. There was a big stand-off between settlers and Arabs. The local police commander had been on the tour last year. The whole thing passed off without violence and the commander said that having been on the course, he handled the situation very differently.
“We believe that happened because of the way the police commander liaised with the community and spoke directly to them.”