Arab mothers: 'We just want to live peacefully and raise our kids safely'

The number of murders in the Arab sector in 2021 has risen to 100.

A protest against the rising crime and violence in the Arab sector in Israel, Jaffa, Saturday, February 6, 2021. (photo credit: SASSONI AVSHALOM)
A protest against the rising crime and violence in the Arab sector in Israel, Jaffa, Saturday, February 6, 2021.
(photo credit: SASSONI AVSHALOM)

Violence in the Arab sector continues to be a prevalent problem with 100 murders in 2021 so far. The mothers of those murdered speak up: 

"I don't know who might shoot me when I go out into the street, but I'm not scared and I don't care," said Muna um-Halil, a member of the "Mothers for Life" forum, whose 28-year-old son Halil was murdered in 2020. "My soul was taken, and from that moment, I have no more fear. Every woman here has lost a son or daughter, and the murderers walk free. What do we have to lose? We will fight until there's law and order also in the Arab sector."

Muna was meters away from the scene where her son was murdered. He had gone to a nearby house to help settle a family feud. When he didn't answer the phone, Muna understood that something terrible had happened.

"Halil loved horses, worked in a wholesale market in Haifa, and was a family man who stayed out of trouble," she said.

"On the night of the murder, I asked him not to go. I grabbed his shirt, and he said, 'don't be scared.' He wanted to go help with the argument and talk to them. I looked out the window and saw everyone except him. I realized something had happened. Halil didn't like problems, never touched drugs, was polite, and worked and provided for his family. He spoke to the fighting family members a few times, tried to mediate between them, and asked them not to be violent or swear."

Regarding the identity of the murderers, Muna said that the police know who they are, but they say there is no proof, so they walked free.

After the murder of her son, she initiated a march under the name of "Women Against Violence", which included Arab and Jewish women who marched from Haifa to the president's house in Jerusalem. 

In the last few days, following 100 murders in the Arab sector in 2021, including women and children, the protest has been raised a level. Last week, the forum's women met with Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, while protesting outside his house for the past four weeks.

Weapons found during IDF searches in the West Bank, Oct. 24, 2019 (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)Weapons found during IDF searches in the West Bank, Oct. 24, 2019 (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

"Every day, someone gets married in the Arab streets," said Muna. "Why? Where are the police? If it was a Jewish kid, would the police give up? Why doesn't my son get justice? They're making a joke of us. If we were Jews, the violence wouldn't be at these dimensions. Why aren't they searching for and seizing the weapons? Why do they let these kids kill each other? We marched from Haifa to Jerusalem and called out that we want to live safely. I was born in Haifa, I live here, and I'm Israeli and want to get the same care from the police and the law."

Most of the women in the "Mothers for Life" forum lost kids to violence. Other women, Jewish and Arab, join the protests, but most of the bereaved mothers are scared or prefer not to re-open the painful wound.

"We are asking for police presence, and that the murderers who are walking free be brought to justice," said Muna. "I will fight with everything I have until everyone that has a gun goes to prison. That's what I want. And so do all the mothers who are with us - Jewish and Arab. We don't want violence in any sector, and we want to police to do their job. All the mothers just want to live peacefully and raise their children safely."

The forum was founded in 2020 after the Haifa-Jerusalem march. After six days, they hoped something would change, but they understood that violence is still prevalent.

"We set up the forum because we haven't lost hope," said Maysem Jaljuli, one of the forum's founders. "Since then we've worked on several levels to raise awareness, not only in the battle of the Arab community but also in the Jewish community, in order to create solidarity and get to the decision-makers to demand a stop to the violence and crime. We demand the solving of the murders as well as a holistic emergency plan involving security forces other than the police. We have seen neglect and discrimination for many years, neglect of the education system, the housing crisis and poverty that have led crime organizations to thrive in the Arab sector."

The forum calls for more bereaved mothers to join, even though it's not an easy task. "It's not easy because there's a lot of fear within the families," said Jaljuli. "As long as the killers are free, the family is under threat, and a lot of women are scared to come forward. There are mothers here whom we should salute. It's important that we have more Jewish and Arab help in the struggle. We are planning to intensify our steps and get to all the ministers and the prime minister. Anyone who refuses to meet us, we will protest in front of their house."

Watafa Jabali's son, 28-year-old Saed, was working in the family minimarket when two youths entered and shot him at close range in November of 2018. Watafa herself was on the floor above and saw the whole thing on the security cameras. 

"Kids who are known to the police and known to hold weapons shot him and ran away," she said.

"We reported shootings by them in the past, and the police did nothing. It all happened in 30 seconds, and my son is gone. His father was there, and it all happened right in front of him. I saw it live on the cameras. I ran down the stair, but I couldn't go in. The neighbors tried to give him CPR, and his sister held his hand. Since then, she hasn't been herself. She is very angry. She refuses to have her own kids since the incident."

In a meeting with Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, Jabali said that this murder, like all the others, was preventable.

"All my life I respected the police and supported them," she said. "Each time we reported crimes, but what help did we get? Maybe if my boy behaved like them and gave them back in kind, he would still be here today. The minister didn't give me answers. Neither did the president. They have no answers. I in my naivety thought that by calling the police, you were supposed to prevent the violence. The Arab street is the scariest place. I cannot argue with anyone violent or even anyone who raises their voice. You just immediately lower your head and give in.

"I just want to feel safe. Such a simple thing. I drive my orphan grandchildren to the park in Kochav Yair or any other Jewish settlement. The children will have fun there, and I will feel safe. There's no shooting in the streets there or crazy drivers."

These days, the forum includes dozens of women. They don't all come out to the media. Some of them go to specific protests. 

"People appreciate what we do in the forum. They support us and tell us they wish everyone came out and spoke about the issue," said Jabali. "Mainly mothers who have lost children. I've met a lot of bereaved mothers, and I know how hard it is. I understand why they don't go out to protest and speak out. It's emotionally difficult, and they are scared of the murderers and their families.

"It's also important to thank the Jewish women who join us. Well done to them."

When asked about the future Jabali said that she lost the dearest thing to her. "I want to continue the fight and influence the decision-makers and the police so that they will start working in the Arab sector and look after us and consider our safety. I have more children, and I want them to live a good and quiet life. We don't have a life right now. A lot of women don't. 

"Where should I turn to? the Palestinian Authority? Who is supposed to protect me? I have a police station half a kilometer from my house, and I turn to them. I never for a moment dreamed that at 52 I would be in a forum for bereaved mothers. Why is our security less important? Why wouldn't something like this happen in Kfar Saba? I always thought that if I don't hurt anyone, no one will hurt me, but now it's clear to me that if it happened to me, it can happen anywhere."

"I only ask to feel safe in my country like a Jewish mother would," said Zahaya Nassara whose 20-year-old son was murdered in 2021. "I want to know that there isn't a difference between different people and that we will get safety, and as a mother, I strive to stop the violence in the Arab sector."

In March, Nassara woke up to the sound of gunshots in the neighbor's house. Because she knew he was there with his friends, she ran to the house and found him lying in his own blood. 

"There were 12 kids there," she said. "They murdered two and injured four. My son died on the spot, and the neighbor died in the hospital. They just went in and shot at everyone who was there.

"We don't know anything. They weren't even interrogated. No one came to us to ask us anything, and we are the parents of the victim. The police were on the scene and gathered evidence, but to this day, no one has been in contact with us. My son was the quiet type, and he wasn't involved in any fights. His only sin was being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"The forum gives me strength and peace. It's important to me to stop the crime and violence, and I want the state to do something to find out who murdered my son. It's inconceivable that every morning we wake up to another murder. I take part in the protests and ask myself where the other mothers are and why they don't come and join and make their voices heard, but I don't have an answer.

"My family tells me not to protest and that nothing will change. They're frustrated because the sector doesn't matter to anyone, but I say: 'as long as I'm alive, I will continue to fight until they find the murderers and put them in prison.' I'm not scared for myself, but I'm very scared for our community and the future we can expect."

"We know that every mother will protect her children like a lioness, and anyone whose son was murdered - her blood boils," said Jabali. "As long as the murderer walks around and my son is in the grave, I still have an urge for revenge. As long as the police don't take care of it, it's not over. 

"We demand that the streets be cleaned up, that they put the killers on trial, that they take the guns off the hands of children, that they listen and that they give us the feeling that there is a will and a plan to give us security. I want to call the police and know that I will have a response."

In response, Israel Police said that "the violence in the Arab sector is a social scourge, and we are working to lessen it and fight it with all the existing means for the sake of public peace and safety. We are working with determination every day against violence and weapons.

Since the beginning of 2021, the police have arrested thousands of suspects for weapon-related crimes in the Arab sector. Furthermore, many weapons have been confiscated in the Arab community, and indictments have been filed accordingly. We would like to emphasize that confiscation of weapons prevents many crime incidents.

"Unfortunately, the police doesn't get cooperation from the victims is witness to violence and murder within the Arab sector that occurs as a result of private fights that escalate into violence."

Translated by Ariella Marsden.