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Surge in crime continues to target Israel's Arabs, amid Israeli failure to fight it

Israeli Arabs march to protest against the raise in crime and violence after performing the Friday prayer outside the municipality building in Umm al-Fahm, Israel, on 5 February 2021. [Mostafa Alkharouf - Anadolu Agency]
Israeli Arabs march to protest against the raise in crime and violence after performing the Friday prayer outside the municipality building in Umm al-Fahm, Israel, on 5 February 2021. [Mostafa Alkharouf - Anadolu Agency]

An Arab-Israeli man was gunned down by armed men in a passing vehicle in the town of Umm al-Fahm, north of Israel, on Tuesday morning. Local authorities reported that the dead man is 25-year-old Khalil Ja'u.

Ja'u is victim number one-hundred-and-one, in the death toll of Arabs who have been gunned down in the crime wave sweeping the Arab society in Israel since the start of this year. Victim number one hundred was Salim Abd al-Karim Hasarma, 44, who was killed in the morning, a day before.

Salim's brother, Ibrahim, also passed away in gunfire in 2019.

In 2020, 113 Arabs were killed in gunfire by unknown gunmen, making it the deadliest year ever, compared to 71 cases in 2018 and 89 in 2019. But 2021 may hit a record number, after having passed the landmark of 100 victims.

"This sharp rise in the murder rate is not a coincidence," Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, Aida Touma-Suleiman said. "The government kept silent and ignored it because it wanted to create an agent that controls the Arab community."

As part of his obligations towards the alliance with the Arab party leader, Mansour Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, had vowed to fight crime in Arab communities shortly after taking office in July.

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The violence in the Arab community is a national calamity that has been neglected for many years," Bennett said.

Combating violence was also one of leader of Ra'am Party, Mansour Abbas's conditions to join the Bennet-led coalition cabinet. The party declared that a large-scale fund would be directed towards fighting the rising murder rate in the Arab sector.

Earlier this month, the Israeli cabinet unveiled a plan to combat crime and violence among Israeli Arabs. Bennet declared that Shin Bet and the Israeli army would be engaged in these efforts, a few days later. However, the Minister of Internal Security, Omer Bar-Lev, denied any direct involvement in fighting organised crime in the Arab sector but pointed out that the army would only act "in context of weapon theft".

Israeli Arabs march to protest against the raise in crime and violence after performing the Friday prayer outside the municipality building in Umm al-Fahm, Israel, on 5 February 2021. [Mostafa Alkharouf - Anadolu Agency]

Israeli Arabs march to protest against the raise in crime and violence after performing the Friday prayer outside the municipality building in Umm al-Fahm, Israel, on 5 February 2021. [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

Shin Bet is Israel's intelligence agency that runs only security operations against the so-called 'terror activity'. The military does not usually get involved in domestic issues as well.

The majority of Israel's Arab society vehemently opposed this move on legal and political grounds. However, some Arab voices are yet in favour of the government's new measures.

The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adala), said in a letter penned to Israel's PM that the involvement of either the intelligence or the army does not have any legal grounds, thus demanding Bennet backtrack on the recent decision to enlist the Shin Bet and the military and assign the Israeli police, solely.

"The decision creates two separate law-enforcement systems—one for Palestinian Arab towns, neighbourhoods and citizens, and the other for the rest of the country—in which Palestinian citizens are treated as enemy aliens," Adala wrote in the letter, claiming that Israeli authorities take security considerations as a pretext to interfere in the Arab community.

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The Chairman of the Higher Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, Mohammad Barakeh, told Al-Quds Al-Arabi that the committee rejects the interference of the Shin Bet and the army in fighting crime. He also accused the Israeli government of being complicit in the surge of violence.

"We fully knew that organised crime groups in the Arab community are an authoritarian project. And police officers confirmed this in a meeting with the Israeli Minister of Public Security, Omer Barlev. They told him that Shin Bet protects heads of organised groups because they are its agents," Barakeh emphasised. "They are trying to extinguish the fire with benzene."

Despite these warnings, the United Arab List Chairman, Mansour Abbas, expressed his consent to fielding the Israeli intelligence service in Israel's Arab society earlier this month. Many other members in the list kept silent about the matter.

Violence in the Arab community has been long associated with the Israeli government's neglect. Although the Israeli police announce an investigation after declaring any Arab dead, no clear information about the perpetrators and their motives, how they act, and whether they are successfully prosecuted or not can be found.

With crime rate in the Arab community showing no signs of slowing down, a major question about the matter remains unanswered. Why do Israeli security forces act tirelessly when an Israeli citizen is the victim but fail to apprehend perpetrators of crimes in the Arab society?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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