Violent crime soars among Arabs communities in Israel

Insecurity, lack of trust in police plague cities and towns

Members of the Israeli police at a condo in Taibeh, an Arab town in central Israel on September 23, 2021, where a fire was reported. Some residents complain that the police only show up when there’s an incident, and do not otherwise patrol Arab streets. (Photo: NYTimes)
OCUUPIED JERUSALEM — Arab communities in Israel suffer from an unprecedented level of violent crimes. Last year was one of the deadliest and bloodiest in recent memory in Arab communities and mixed towns in Israel, with 128 people killed.اضافة اعلان

The upsurge in violence is raising major concerns among a minority that has long complained of institutionalized discrimination.

Palestinians in Israel represent about a fifth of the population, but in recent years, most murders in the country occurred among them. They say police is not doing enough to combat what has become a deadly plague.

According to a recent report by the Aman Center, the Israeli police managed to solve only 29 percent of murders among Arabs this year, compared to 71 percent among the Jewish population.

Police did not confirm the numbers, but officials insist that they are doing all they can to put an end to the crime spree.

Last October, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he had ordered two units of the Border Police to relocate to southern Israel “in order to help fight crime in Arab communities”.

“We are losing the country,” Bennett said at a Cabinet meeting that dealt with crime in Arab communities last October.

Reda Jaber, a director at Aman Center, The Arab Center for Safe Society, in Tayebi, Israel, told Jordan News that the spike in crime and violence is part of decades of systemic discrimination in housing, job opportunities and education.

“The state did not deal with poverty, unemployment, lack of frameworks for young men and women in distress, the black market, the absence of any local economic components, as well as the development of the cultural life of the community,” said Jaber.

Arabs make up 20 percent of Israel’s population of nine million, and they are Arab descendants of the Palestinians who remained on their lands after the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Reda said that the high crime rate within Palestinian communities in Israel is mainly due to the state’s policies that have “chronically placed the communities on the margins of the Jewish majority and thus kept their problems without solutions”.

According to Aman, a large gap exists not only in the percentage of solving cases, but also in the total number of murders in Arab towns and villages. Seventy-two percent of all murders in 2021 occurred in Arab communities, compared to 25 percent in Jewish ones.

“This means that there were 10 times more Arabs killed than Jews in Israel last year,” said Thabet Abu Rass, co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives in Israel.

In 2019, 71 percent of the 125 homicide victims in Israel were Arabs.

Abu Rass attributed the rise in crime to several reasons, among them the prevalence of illegal weapons in Arab towns; some put the estimate at half a million pieces.

Abu Rass told Jordan News that “there is lack of trust in the government’s efforts and promises”. He warned that the continuing wave of violent crimes in the Arab sector could lead to “civil war”.

Abu Ras also said that “the government and the Israeli police are to blame for the exacerbation of crime and violence in the Arab community,” and that the Israeli police is the only party that can fight this type of crime in Arab towns and villages.

Abu Ras listed three “profound causes” for the ongoing wave of criminal activities, including murder. One relates to land disputes and the acute housing crisis in the Arab sector, and to lands owned by official local authorities.

“High rates of unemployment, poor education, high rates of youth at risk, and solving planning and housing obstacles, making capital and credit available to Arab citizens while developing better financial services… the government did not work or plan to fix any of these problems in a serious way,” he said.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are a young community, with 30 percent of its population aged 18 to 23, and observers say they lack many of the benefits that are afforded to the Jewish citizens of the same age.

“This makes them an easy target for mafia-like gangs to go after them and recruit them for money,” said Abu Rass.

“The police is treating the Arab citizens as an enemy (of the state),” he added. 

Politicians and community leaders alike complain that they are marginalized and deprived of financial services and budgets.

“There is no equality between Jews and Arabs when it comes to government services,” said Abu Ras.

“For example, the lack of bank branches in a certain area causes many Arabs to resort to the black market for a loan, and the interest they have to pay is very high.”

Most of the victims are young people, but other groups are increasingly falling victim to crime linked to unlicensed weapons, family disputes and organized crime.

“The state and its institutions have failed everyone, they do not care, they do not provide budgets, they do not help uplift the Arab and Palestinian citizens of Israel and this is the result,” activist Maysam Jaljuli of Mothers for Life organization told Jordan News.

“I wonder if the police is looking at the rise in crimes in terms of ‘Who cares’. They are Arabs, let them kill each other.”

Powerful Arab criminal gangs proliferate in Arab towns and cities, demanding protection money.

The families of the victims and Arab officials see police inaction as one of the main causes of the endemic violence that has plagued their neighborhoods and cities.

“We have historically been marginalized and overlooked by the state,” says Jaljuli.

The police in Israel has long complained that these communities refuse to cooperate with them, making solving crimes difficult.

“This excuse by the police is proof that they are bankrupt. It is obvious to us that when the police want to work and solve a crime, they do not need us to help,” says Jaljuli, adding that “the proof is every Jewish citizen who is killed in any Arab town: his killers will be arrested in a matter of hours.”

“I am not sure if this is a result of their failure or an official state policy,” said Jaljuli.

She works now with mothers who lost their children to violence to bring awareness to this plight, and pressure the government to take serious steps to combat crime in their communities.

With the soaring crime rate, the only ones that pay the price are families of the victims.

In Qalansawa, Zahia Nasra, a grieving mother, still tears up when she talks about the night her son Laith was killed. The mother of five girls and three boys told Jordan News that she woke up early that cold March day to pray; her husband had already left for the mosque. She heard a commotion and the sound of bullets. Nasra’s heart dropped as she ran to her other son’s room to wake him up.

She says he ran next door where his young brother Mohammed was with his friends celebrating a birthday.

Mohammad, the older brother, came back with the bad news.

“I heard the shooting and I fainted and screamed. I woke up my other son and we went to see what happened. We found him dead on the couch,” she said as she wiped her tears.

Qalansawa, a sleepy village of some 24,000 residents in central Israel, in the area known as the triangle, is famous for its sweet strawberries. It has seen a spike in crime and murder rates in the last few years.

“The police came and never talked to us. They are not interested in solving the crime even though they know the killers,” said Nasra.

Fighting back tears remembering her son, Nasra said she was trying to come to terms with what happened, but “it is still fresh” in her mind.

“If he died of natural causes or if he was sick, I would say it is God’s will, but to be killed is hard for me to accept.”

Two were killed that night, including her son, and three were wounded.

Wael Awwad, a Palestinian journalist from Nazareth, told Jordan News that the government has no intention to fight crime and its “plans to fight crime are not serious”.

Many people like Awwad blame the steep spike in violence on the failed policies of successive governments and the police.

“The government uses crime as a tool to control the Arab community, and this is what we must fight. The government’s policy as a whole has failed to prevent arms smuggling from the police and the army to criminals. It [the government] must lift the protection some criminals enjoy from the army, and target some well-known criminal groups. Like it did with criminal families in the Jewish community, he said.”

The current Israeli coalition government, which includes for the first time an Arab Islamic party, promised to address this problem.

It has allocated more than $310 million as part of a new plan to fight crime in Arab communities. Many believe that this should include addressing the relative poverty that is widespread among Israel’s Arabs. But, sadly, many believe that unless the government deals with the problem at its roots, 2022 will be a replica of its predecessor.

“This is a temporary solution, but unfortunately I do not see any real long-term plans. I am not optimistic,” said Jaljuli.

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