Written by: Dr. Kifah Manasra, Expert in Criminology

 

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) issued a survey in the fourth quarter of 2020 to monitor the changes in key indicators related to the status of families and individuals who were subjected to criminal acts on a family sample of 8,040 Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It indicated a decrease in the crime rate during the Coronavirus pandemic compared to the results of the 2016 survey. This generalized finding has forced us, as specialists and observers, to ask many questions about the methodology used, the credibility of the results and the reason(s) as to why we resort to victim surveys? What are the goals that we seek to achieve from these surveys? What is the definition of the term “victim” used in the survey? What are the factors and variables included in the survey form during the COVID-19 pandemic?

 

The answer to these questions determines the objectivity and credibility of the results of the victim survey carried out by the PCBS, which indicated that the crime in 2020 decreased compared to previous years and in 2016. The factors and variables included in the field survey form during the COVID-19 pandemic, i.e., 2020, is the same as the 2016 survey. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic variable was overlooked during 2020. Reaching generalizations on the level of crime compared to the same variables in 2016 is a big issue, especially regarding a decrease in the level of specific crimes that were measured. It is also not permissible to generalize a decrease in the level of crime in Palestinian society in general.

 

The measurement of the rates of damage in terms of estimating the number of victims, the severity of the damage, and the type of damage, according to what is universally recognized, is based mainly on criminal statistics that have come to the knowledge of the official authorities. These statistics give main indicators on the reality of the victims of crime, in addition to random samples of people against whom crimes were committed during the year. This is with knowing that a large number of crimes committed do not reach the knowledge of the police. According to many references in this regard, they indicate that if we want to estimate the number of victims and measure the extent of the damage, we must take into account the people who were directly affected by the crimes that reached the criminal justice system. We must also take into account three to five times the figure and not ignore all members of the victim's family, and the members and family of the perpetrators together. Criminal acts do not only affect the direct victim, but the family of the victims and the family of the perpetrators, in addition to other sectors and groups that have been affected with incurred losses.

 

This was not addressed in the PCBS’s victim survey. If the survey was conducted on a general community sample of those who were subjected to criminal acts, the number of families exposed and the number of individuals directly exposed, then there would be fewer individuals than the number of families. This is contrary to the results according to the calculation of the victims referred to. According to the survey, 5.4% of families in Palestine were subjected to criminal acts, while 1.1% of individuals in Palestine were subjected to criminal acts and were victims of criminal acts, part of which reached the justice system and others did not. It is a survey that only enumerates the number of affected families, and the survey did not include the number of their members as they are also affected and victims of the crime committed against them or one of their members. These aspects are important to refer to while measuring the extent of the damage or surveying the victims.

 

In addition, the survey asked the sample members about specific crimes, the rate of which was significantly affected by the change in the pandemic and the associated security measures. Theft, robbery and destruction of property due to home quarantine, security tightening on roads and security barriers that have spread inside cities and the closure of some of their neighborhoods were not mentioned as important variables. This hindered the pattern of crimes due to the circumstances of the pandemic, which encouraged the emergence of other criminal patterns that were not asked about. These are like an increase in cases of assault on security personnel, an increase in cybercrime, an escalation in crimes involving the family sexually, physically and psychologically, economic crimes, smuggling and forgery of medical tools and food. There was also a rise in fights and murders in the second half of 2020, such as the possession of weapons outside the framework of the law, the phenomenon of shooting and the failure to count the victims of this type of crime in society. This entails that the proportion and quality of material and human damages resulting from these phenomena were ignored.

 

It was also noted that the victim's survey missed a clear definition of the victim, which is not permissible. A specific definition of the victim must be adopted and therefore the survey tool, which is directly related to the survey of the victim and the crime rate, is designed, so that the results are linked to the crimes that were measured.  Did the PCBS adopt the definition of victims of acts in violation of penal laws, victims of political conflict, victims of personal status laws and some national laws, or victims of acts violating the penal law and victims of political conflict before the occupation only, ignoring victims of abuse of power and victims of internal division? According to the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, adopted by General Assembly Resolution 40/34 of 29 November 1985, “Victims” means persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within the Member States, including those laws proscribing criminal abuse of power.

 

It was clear in the victim's survey that it was limited to specific crimes, ignoring new criminal patterns and a specific definition of the victim, which in turn affected the results of the survey and reflected in relation to the level of crime and the victims are questionable and suspicious. This reflects the stereotype of the concept of criminalization in the mentality of the official institution, including the PCBS’s Department, and the stereotypical definition of the victim, where the definition of the victim was limited to certain acts contrary to the criminal law, and partly from a description of the victims of the political conflict represented by the violations of the occupation and the harassment of settlers. Were the victims of military checkpoints counted? Or were the members of the families whose members were arrested were counted?

 

The victim's survey, which indicates a decline in the level of crime, is linked to traditional and fragmented definitions of crime. On the other hand, new crimes have emerged, and the percentage of their victims is very large, which was not addressed in the year of the Corona pandemic. There was also an increase in murder, i.e., more than 45% in 2020 compared to 2019.

 

If the purpose is to measure the size and quantity of harm, then the methodology that was followed and its limitations by defining the victim and omitting the inclusion of new criminal patterns will be difficult to verify. The result is unrealistic regarding material and human damage, knowing that the human damage is not known by the survey and whether it was as a result of psychological and social issues. Human damage was 5.4%, while material damage was 66.6%. Usually, developed societies carry out these surveys to identify the type of damage, whether physical or material, in order to launch plans, programs and laws from it, and to set budgets to confront those losses, to prepare appropriate preventive and remedial plans, to treat all damages and to reach the victims, and in order that the material losses are not on the victims’ shoulders, but on national funds. In this regard, and thus if the results are unrealistic, the result will be a prejudice to national plans and directions in limiting and preventing crime.

 

 

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.