The Arab community in Israel had hardly recovered from the shock of Thursday’s shooting spree leaving five dead in less than 20 minutes when news of five more deaths followed in a span of 72 hours.
The deadly mass shooting in the northern Arab town of Yafa an-Naseriyye on Thursday is one of the worst single acts of violence in Israel in recent years. It comes on the heels of a huge spike in violence in Israel’s Arab communities this year. According to the Abraham Initiatives, an anti-violence and pro-coexistence monitoring group, at least 100 Arabs have been killed violently since the start of the year, a sharp rise from the 35 murders at this point in 2022.
Maher Khaliliya, head of the Yafa an-Naseriyye local council, called the shooting a “massacre” and accused the police of not doing enough to stop the violence. He joined other Arab Israeli leaders in calling for better security and more government involvement to stop the wave of violence.
“We are calling on all government institutions and the head of police to take necessary steps to stop this pandemic that has infiltrated every home and everywhere, including our quiet town,” Khaliliya said.
The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, an umbrella organization that represents Arab citizens of Israel, called for a general strike on Friday. In addition, thousands demonstrated on Friday against the increased violence in several Arab towns. Protesters held banners reading “It is my right to live in safety” and “Yafa has lost her sons.”
Previous governments promised more money and police presence, but according to Mohammad Barakeh, Head of the Follow-Up Committee, they failed to deliver.
“The government is responsible for what’s happening and is neglectful in combating the rampant crime in Arab communities,” Barakeh said, accusing the Prime Minister of providing merely lip service commitments.
During the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, PM Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the deadly crime spike in Arab communities, calling the killings “a national calamity.” He blamed most of them on “criminal organizations that are embittering the lives of Arab citizens of Israel.”
“Crime has become a blight on the country,” the premier said. “A considerable part of this crime is the result of crime organizations that are embittering the lives of Israel’s Arab citizens, sowing terror and fear in their communities, and running protection rackets that have become a plague for the country in general and not just the Arab sector.”
Gangs only growing larger and stronger in Arab sector
Many local officials say Arab gangs have amassed large quantities of illegal weapons over the past two decades and are involved in drugs, arms, extortion, and money laundering.
MK Ayman Odeh said in a statement that Arab community leaders “have for years been calling for getting the weapons off the streets and for cracking down on crime organizations.”
“We won’t accept this negligence. We will cause the whole country to strike until this stops,” Odeh insisted.
In response to the seemingly endless series of violent incidents and murders in Arab communities, many voices have arisen accusing the police of failing to do their work to curb crime, pursue criminal gangs, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Holding banners reading “We want to live,” men and women protested outside the small town of Yafa an-Naseriyye, pointing the finger at the government for not doing enough to combat organized crime.
“We are helpless and hopeless,” protestor Iman Abed told The Media Line, as she stood in the scorching heat. “We all want to live in peace with our families. What we are asking for is our right as citizens.”
According to Thabet Abu Rass, co-director of the Abraham Initiatives, the government and the police had failed to contain the violence.
“There are people who enjoy police protection so that they are released shortly after their arrest,” he charged.
The police have repeatedly complained that Arab citizens don’t fully cooperate with them, making it almost impossible for their investigators and officers to pursue leads.
“We have a responsibility, but that does not absolve the government,” responded Talab El-Sana, former Knesset member and current member of the leadership of the Higher Steering Committee for the Arabs of the Negev.
“Regardless of whether there is a societal or political shortcoming of the Arab representatives, the state’s job is to provide security and safety for the citizens. If not, then there is no need for states and governments. This is self-evident and there is no need for the government to invoke such pretexts and arguments,” Sana continued.
If the government doesn’t take immediate steps to protect its Arab citizens, then Israel’s largest minority must take action, Sana maintained.
“We must talk seriously about the issue of civil disobedience, and if the situation continues as it is now, we should look into even a hunger strike by the Arab leaders,” he said.
Israeli opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz blamed National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir for the violence, both calling for his ousting. As part of his newly created position, he has committed to reducing violent crime among Israeli civilians.
“Netanyahu must fire Ben Gvir. We can’t continue this way. People are dying every day. Families are destroyed. He’s the most failed minister in the history of the police. His only experience in the area is as a convicted criminal. He has no idea what he’s doing. Since he entered office, the number of murdered people rose 300%,” said Lapid.
MK Odeh echoed the call, demanding the government to “immediately fire” Ben Gvir. On Friday, former police chiefs also wrote a letter to the prime minister calling to remove Ben Gvir from his post, warning he was a “tangible, immediate threat to the security of the State of Israel.”
“Ben-Gvir is not the solution, he is a part of the problem,” the letter read. “The situation that the Israel Police has found itself in is not dictated by fate. Israel Police is falling apart before our eyes and before terror organizations and criminals. … Excellent officers and commanders are abandoning the police at an unprecedented rate.”
National Security Minister Ben Gvir responded to the increasing calls for his resignation amidst the mounting body count. He pressed to enlist the Shin Bet in the fight against gangs, saying just last week that he’d demand a cabinet vote on the matter.
“The tools at the disposal of the police are limited,” he said. “The Shin Bet must be brought into action, given everything that has been happening in recent months.”
He referred to the criticism that arose against him in his handling of crime and defined it as irrelevant.
“All those who criticize me are in a campaign—it won’t help them, they don’t want Ben Gvir,” said the embattled minister.
Successive governments have struggled to properly tackle violent crime, and it has increased drastically this year. In 2022, it took until November to reach 100 murders; this year, we’re already past that mark and it's only June.
Arab citizens of Israel, who are descendants of Palestinians who stayed on their land after Israel’s creation in 1948, comprise around 20% of the country’s population. They have long complained of discrimination and police inaction against violence and crime plaguing their communities.
MK Aida Touma-Suleiman told The Media Line that the government has no intention of fighting crime in Arab communities, adding that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government must build trust with the Arab population.
“We live in a state of organized terrorism,” she said. “The government must have real political will and take serious steps toward combating organized crime in our communities.”