Another day, another murder in the Arab sector - analysis

Israeli-Arabs are met with a prevalent sense of fear that has gripped their community; a feeling of a lack of personal security.

 POLICE AND MEDICAL personnel at the scene of the murder of a woman in Lod, last week. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
POLICE AND MEDICAL personnel at the scene of the murder of a woman in Lod, last week.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

On Tuesday, May 23 – the 143rd day of the year – Musa Abu Musa, an Arab resident of Lod, was shot and killed in the early hours in Ramle. Musa became the 81st Arab-Israeli homicide victim this year – that’s one murder in the Arab sector every day and a half.

And that only tells part of the story. Also on Tuesday, another man was shot and critically wounded in the northern Arab town of Ar’ara. Those murdered make headlines, those “only” wounded – even critically wounded – less so.The result is a prevalent sense of fear that has gripped the Israeli-Arab community; a feeling of a lack of personal security; a feeling that the state just doesn’t care about their basic needs, because there is no  need more basic than personal security.
These are all feelings that triggered a convoy of cars on Sunday from the North to the Knesset to protest. The convoy, which included Arab MKs and local authority leaders, blocked traffic for about an hour on Route 6 near Baka al-Garbiyeh and Jatt before proceeding to Jerusalem, where the demonstrators gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s Office.
And that was before Musa’s murder.
There have been more murders in the Arab sector in the first five months of 2023 than there were in all of 2016 (64), 2017 (75), and 2018 (74). The number of people killed in the Arab community this year is on the trajectory to reach more than 200, far outstripping the worst year of violence when 126 Israeli-Arabs were killed in 2021. May alone has seen 17 killings in the Arab sector.

The Knesset’s National Security Committee held a meeting on the issue on May 15 and was presented with statistics that show the scope of the problem. According to these figures, first published in Israel Hayom, 731 people were murdered in non-terrorist or security-related incidents between 2018-2022. Of those, 70% were Arabs, who make up just 21% of the population. Twenty-four percent of those killed were Jews, and 6% were categorized by the police as “other.”

Women among targets of Arab-sector violence

Of the 731 people killed during those years, 17% were women over the age of 13.

According to the numbers presented to the Knesset committee, indictments against suspects were issued in 69% of the cases where a Jew was murdered, but only in 29% of the cases where the homicides involved an Arab.
Many are the reasons given to explain this phenomenon: a flood of illegal weapons in Arab towns, some say there are half a million illegal firearms that have been smuggled in from Jordan and the West Bank; high levels of poverty; rampant unemployment; understaffed and overwhelmed police; cultural changes the Arab family is undergoing; a lack of government investment in Arab communities; societal apathy; a reluctance among Arabs to cooperate with the police.
As the violence spiraled out of control in 2021, the Bennett-Lapid government placed bringing down crime in the Arab sector as one of its top priorities. It budgeted some NIS 2.5 billion for the task and drew up a holistic approach to tackle the issue.
The plan – called Safe Track, under the responsibility of the then deputy public security minister Yoav Segalovitz – included steps aimed at dismantling organized crime, hitting the sources of funds for organized crime, cracking down on arms smuggling, strengthening the governance in the Arab sector, and building trust and increasing cooperation with the Arab local authorities.
Segalovitz stressed over and over that this would take time, that there was no magic wand, and that success could not be judged by a stopwatch. Nevertheless, the program showed some promising signs, and by the end of 2022, the murder rates in the Arab sector had dropped by some 13%.
That positive trend has abruptly been halted. Why? What happened?
Ephraim Lavie, Mohammed Wattad, and Meir Elran of the Institute for National Security Studies,  (INSS) wrote earlier this week that part of the problem is that the current government is not prioritizing the problem.
“If the government does not take immediate action to deal effectively with this severe challenge, which poses a threat to domestic security, the situation is likely to get much worse and could even deteriorate to unprecedented dimensions and threaten national security,” they wrote.
Israel got a taste of how this could threaten national security during the rioting in the mixed Arab-Jewish towns in May 2021 during Operation Guardian of the Walls, when armed Arabs torched homes, synagogues, and even fired at police in Lod.
It was then that the issue of illegal weapons, which up until that point was widely seen as a problem for the Arab sector alone, became a national issue.
According to the INSS researchers, the decision in 2021 by Mansour Abbas’ Ra’am party (the United Arab list) to join the government provided the Israeli Arab public with hope that this would be a major priority.
“Public figures and leaders from Arab society publicly undertook to play a role in reducing violence and crime. They contributed to this goal, inter alia, by encouraging the public to cooperate with the police and to denounce and marginalize criminals and lawbreakers through delegitimization of the recourse to violence, including against women,” they wrote. “Currently, these important voices are more frequently heard leveling harsh criticism at the state and the police for what they see as lax handling of crime.”
Some of these voices were heard at Sunday’s protest in front of the Prime Minister’s Office. Mohammad Barakeh, the chairman of the Arab Monitoring High Committee and leading CPI activist, was quoted as saying that “crime in Arab society is the result of a deliberate policy, designed to divert attention from political and national issues and focus it on personal security.”
Former MK Ibrahim Hijazi, of the Islamic Movement, told Channel 12: “The police remain quiet and encourage crime and violence. We must mobilize, regardless of our political affiliation. The crime is getting worse, and this is the duty of the hour. This government does not want to see Arabs in this country.”
One of the building blocks of Safe Track was dialogue between those involved in the program – from the police and various governmental bodies – and Israeli Arab leaders. That trust is a key ingredient.
In recent months, however, with the election of the new government and the appointment of Itamar Ben-Gvir as national security minister, that trust has dissipated. Ben-Gvir, viewed widely in the Arab community as an anti-Arab racist, is not the personality able to build the bridges with the Arab authorities that will enable the cooperation needed to deal effectively with this issue.
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, as well, is not seen in the Arab sector as sincere in his efforts.  Any credit he had with the Arab community melted away after a tape emerged in April of him telling Ben-Gvir,  “Mr. Minister, nothing can be done. They murder each other. It’s their nature. It’s the mentality of the Arabs.”
Israeli-Arab leaders are blaming Israel for intentionally not doing enough, and Shabtai – as he claimed at the Herzliya conference on Monday – said the police are making “tremendous efforts” to deal with the problem, which he said is one of the police’s main priorities.

Meanwhile, as everyone is casting and deflecting blame, the number of murder victims in the Arab sector just continues to grow day by day.