Arab citizens may be encountering a jarring image these days: a pistol dripping with blood accompanied by the exhortation “Clean your house from weapons. The lives of the people are not cheap.”
The imagery is part of a public relations campaign launched Tuesday by the Abraham Fund Initiatives, a nonprofit organization that promotes equality of Arab citizens.
“The idea is to raise awareness that we have a problem of illegal weapons, that these weapons feed violence, and to put the issue on the table so that it is a serious issue for serious discussion in the Arab community,” said Abraham Fund co-director Thabet Abu Rass.
Waged through advertisements, billboards and social media, the campaign features videos of mayors, members of Knesset and judges “calling on people to clean your house because illegal weapons are killing us,” said Abu Rass.
The campaign is co-sponsored by the Follow-Up Committee to Fight Violence, a branch of the High Follow-Up Committee – an overarching public body aimed at advancing the interests of Israeli Arabs.
Illegal weapons and lethal violence among the Arab minority have reached alarming proportions in recent years.
According to Israel Police figures, 80% of illegal weapons in Israel are in Arab communities, which account for 20% of the population.
Abraham Fund 2017. (YouTube/Tafitv)
Since the beginning of the year, 55 Arabs have been killed by Arabs, according to Abu Rass, seven of them in Kafr Kasim and nine in Jaffa.
Arab leaders and the Arab public claim that police are not doing enough to solve the murders – an accusation that the police deny.
Many who possess weapons acquire them not out of criminal intent but simply because they feel unsafe in an atmosphere of unchecked violence, said Rasool Sa’ada, director of the Abraham Fund’s Safe Communities Initiative.
Taleb al-Sana, chairman of the Follow-Up Committee to Fight Violence, said that “The problem is that people have weapons because they think they need them to protect themselves because the police are not providing security. The police need to provide this security and punishment for holding weapons has to be heightened so that people will be afraid to hold them.”
Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld dismissed allegations that the police are failing to provide security in Arab communities.
“That is incorrect and inaccurate. The Israel Police are working closely with the different Israeli Arab neighborhoods on all levels, including criminal- related issues.”
“We are trying to help the police and Arab community to work together,” said Abu Rass.
“Our message to the Arab community is that you cannot combat violence without cooperation with the police.
“There is a problem of mistrust.
The police should work harder to win the trust of the Arab community. They have to achieve better results in solving the crimes.”
The launch of the Abraham Fund’s campaign comes two weeks after the close of a nineday police initiative that granted immunity from prosecution to anyone voluntarily relinquishing illegal weapons.
The effort evoked very little response, leading Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to say it had “failed.”
The Abraham Fund is trying to persuade police to renew the amnesty offer, saying the police campaign lacked public relations preparation and proper coordination with local Arab leadership.
“You cannot do something for just nine days and then say that Arab society isn’t cooperating,” said Sa’ada.
“We are telling the police we are waging this campaign to increase awareness among the public. We know that there are some who won’t relinquish their weapons, the criminal elements. For these elements, it is the police’s job to collect their weapons, to arrest them and to put them on trial,” said Sa’ada. “But a person who is not among the criminal elements who bought a weapon because he does not feel secure or wants to defend his family or because his extended family is in a dispute and there is no police protection, that person can be persuaded to give up his weapon.
He has to believe the police will provide security and that he will have immunity from prosecution.”
MK Masud Gnaim (Joint List) voiced support for the Abraham Fund’s campaign. “The first thing should be a media campaign,” he said. “It is good to call on people to give up their weapons because they are being used to kill each other and are being used by criminal organizations.”
But Gnaim said voluntary relinquishment is very far from enough and alleged that the police are failing to actively uncover and seize illegal weapons in Arab areas. “They have the intelligence and the forces to do this,” he said.
Rosenfeld denied the accusation and said the police are active in seizing weapons. “When we have information, we search and find [weapons] and make arrests,” he said.