Israel’s Arab population plagued by high murder rates

Despite a plateau in the number of murders in the Israel’s Arab community in 2018, the last few years have seen a major spike in Arab-Israeli crime.

January 23, 2019 01:55
4 minute read.
Israel’s Arab population plagued by high murder rates

BORDER POLICE patrol Jerusalem’s Old City.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Despite a plateau in the number of killings in Israel’s Arab community in 2018, over the last few years there has been a major spike in the homicide rate. Last year, 70 Arab-Israelis were murdered, according to the Israel Police, whereas in the four proceeding years their incidence increased significantly from 56 to 72.

Moreover, between 2014 and 2016 ninety-five percent of murder suspects in residential areas were Arab, according to a 2018 report released by the state comptroller. Arabs make up around 20 percent of Israel’s population.

Nearly half of all Israeli women killed in 2018 were Arab, whose lives are ended at nearly double the rate of the general population, the report found. This is in part due to “honor killings,” which typically involve a male murdering a female relative over a perceived shame inflicted on the family.

The recent rise in the number of murders is part of an increase in crime in general, a trend described as a “social disaster” by Anton Goodman, Director of Development at the Abraham Fund Initiatives, a not-for-profit that aims to foster co-existence between Jews and Arabs.

“There is chronic unemployment, poverty [in Arab towns]—it is a petri dish for law-breaking,” he stressed to The Media Line.

A lack of infrastructure coupled with overcrowding in Arab centers are helping to create breeding grounds for criminal activity, Dr. Ahmad Amara, Director of International Advocacy at the West Bank-based Meezaan Center For Human Rights, contended to The Media Line. "Not a single new Arab city or town has been built in Israel since its establishment in 1948," he claimed, “so the same place that had 150,000 citizens now hosts 1.3 million people and you simply have no space. Many crimes happen over neighborly relationships, cars and traffic.

“People also don’t have where to spend their time," Dr. Amara elaborated. "You don’t have projects by the state to direct [youthful] energy into positive outlets. There are no open spaces, no parks, no soccer fields.”

Arab culture is simultaneously modernizing and becoming less religious, Goodman highlighted, adding that this has resulted in the marginalization of traditional sources of influence such as imams, which today hold less sway over many individuals.

“Arab society is in transition. Family control and other types of social norms have corroded. Civic structures can exert less control over people and so there is an erosion of authority within the Arab community itself,” he related.

Some people believe that discrimination partially accounts for the high crime rates, given that those mistreated by society have a propensity to turn on themselves.

“When you’re oppressed, you oppress others,” Dr. Amara explained.

Meanwhile, there is a severe lack of police officers in Arab communities and 70 percent of murder cases between 2014 and 2017 remain unsolved, according to the Meezaan Center. This is largely attributed to Arab wariness of law enforcement, which leads to fewer witnesses coming forward.

Dr. Amara blames the Israel Police of perpetuating a “culture of negligence,” which de-prioritizes Arab-Israelis.
"While organized crime has dwindled in Jewish communities, it has steadily risen in Arab ones," Goodman said. "This is due to heavy policing in Jewish communities over the past five years, whereas Arab crime organizations have benefited from the resulting lack of competition.”

The illegal firearm industry has also mushroomed in Arab communities, with guns either stolen from army bases or smuggled in from Jordan and from illegal weapons factories in the West Bank. According to Meezaan Center estimates, there are as many as 60,000 unlicensed firearms in Arab-Israeli towns and villages. Between 2014 and 2016, the rate of shooting crimes in the Arab sector was 17.5 times that of its Jewish counterpart, the state comptroller report found.

Adel Harib, a municipal official in the Arab town of Bir al-Maksur, told The Media Line that residents feel the impact of violence every day. “The police don’t care. They want us to kill each other. We are not important to them,” he said.

The police vehemently denied that it is dismissive of murder in the Arab sector. “Whenever there is an incident, police units respond immediately and arrive at the scene, take evidence including forensics in order to find suspects as quickly as possible,” police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld asserted to The Media Line.

In 2016, the government allocated more than NIS 1 billion ($280,000) to establish ten more police stations in Arab towns and to deploy more than a thousand new officers on the ground. However, in October 2018, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh revealed that some NIS 400 million ($108,000) had been slashed from the program.

According to Goodman, reducing the number of murders in Israel’s Arab community requires a holistic approach that addresses matters ranging from better policing to combating poverty, from lowering unemployment rates to improving social benefits.

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line's Press and Policy Studies)

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