Is Israel's gov't failing to combat wave of death in the Arab sector?

Rising violence in Arab-Israeli communities beleaguers the current coalition, with a death toll nearly tripling that of this time last year.

 CARRYING THE coffins of two of the five men murdered the day before in Yafa an-Naseriyye, June 9.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
CARRYING THE coffins of two of the five men murdered the day before in Yafa an-Naseriyye, June 9.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

The Marijeh family is waiting for answers to why a shooter killed five people at their family-owned car wash earlier this month in the town of Yafia, near Nazareth.

The car wash wasn’t just a place where locals would come to wash their vehicles – it was a place for community, where youth would gather on the couches that sat beneath a large patch of shade and chat until the sun set. It was owned by Naim Marijeh, 29, who was murdered in the shooting

Community leaders have dubbed the violence – in which two people were additionally wounded and were in critical condition – a “massacre.”

“We are alone here,” said Hani Marijeh, whose was Naim’s uncle. He was sitting in his mother’s dimly-lit apartment overlooking the scene of the crime last week, as mourners gathered. They sat along the far wall and were joined by journalists on a visit organized by MediaCentral. Naim’s father, Tawfik Marijeh, sat beside his brothers Hani and Wajih – whose son Rami, 15, was also killed. Tawfik rushed to get chairs and espresso for the guests.

Rami’s grandmother, Radya, looked on with anguish. She held her hands to her chest, her face contorted with pain.

 PALESTINIAN FLAGS are hung where activist Bashar Nakhash and Kinana are interviewed. (credit: I.H. Mintz)
PALESTINIAN FLAGS are hung where activist Bashar Nakhash and Kinana are interviewed. (credit: I.H. Mintz)

The only word she seemed to remember was the name of her grandchild: “Rami, Rami” she cried out to the heavens, praying as though he would return home again.

Diab, 18, Rami’s brother and Naim’s cousin, said in a phone interview that recounting memories of his little brother hurt.

Everybody loved Rami, who was both the class clown and a mathematics and chemistry whiz, Diab said. He had friends in villages all over the country.

“Sometimes, when I am sitting at home, I still think Rami is playing around outside,” Diab added. “Why, why would someone do this to a 15-year-old?”

AT A time when violence in Arab Israeli communities is at an all-time high, the family is at a loss. They said that the police only went to see them 15 days after the murders.

“Until then we hadn’t received any updates, and that indicates the weakness of Israel’s police against the crimes in our Arab community,” Wajih told The Jerusalem Post.

Hani said that before even appearing on the crime scene, the police had blamed the massacre on an ongoing feud between the Bakri and Hariri crime families.

Yet Wajih maintained that his son and nephew were never involved with organized crime. The car wash was a family business, he said, with Naim serving as the owner for several years. The two boys would often hang out there with their friends.

Majeed said that the three other people killed in the massacre were friends his son and nephew grew up with. Tawfik added that if his son were threatened by the Bakri or Hariri, he would not “sit publicly [in the open]... without fearing anything.”

The over 100 Arab Israelis murdered this year have been attacked in a similar, clandestine fashion, Tawfik said.

The car wash shooting lacks a clear motive at this time. Both Majeed and Tawfik Marjieh said they did not know why the car wash was targeted and have called on the police to properly investigate the crime.

Israel Police wrote that they regard “the crime of murder with utmost seriousness,” and that the National Unit for International Investigations (Yach- bal) within Lahav 433 is investigating the case.

“This dedicated unit is diligently and professionally delving into the case,” the Israel Police Spokesperson’s Unit said.

“Tremendous amounts of resources and tools are being utilized to bring this case to justice.” 

Police last week arrested 14 individuals related to recent violent incidents between the Bakri and Hariri families, however, it is unclear if there have been any indictments related to the car-wash shooting.

The police did not respond to allegations about whether they visited the Marijeh family or not.

Tawfik added that only two government officials had visited the family – former MK Yousef Jabareen and MK Yoav Segalovich (Yesh Atid).

Rising violence in Israel's Arab sector

RISING VIOLENCE in Arab-Israeli communities beleaguers the current coalition, with a death toll nearly tripling that of this time last year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the spike in violence a “national calamity” led by “criminal organizations that are embittering the lives of Arab citizens of Israel,” as previously reported by The Jerusalem Post. For now, the future looks uncertain.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu’s proposal to utilize the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to shut down potential violence was met with dismay and concern over potential human rights violations.

In 2022, the Bennett-Lapid government allocated about NIS 2.5 billion towards its Safe Track plan, resulting in a 13% drop in murder rates across the Arab sector. Since the new administration came to power, community leaders have seen a reversal in such progress.

On June 18, Netanyahu created an 18-member ministerial committee to combat crime in Israel’s Arab communities, but only one seat was reserved for an Arab representative.

Though the spike is recent, Arab Israelis have been over-represented in crime statistics for a number of years. According to a Knesset Research and Information Center report, between 2018-2022, 731 Israelis were murdered. And while Arab Israelis account for only 21% of the total population, 70% of those murdered were Arab Israelis, compared to 24% Jewish Israelis and 6% defined as “others.”

Arab leaders feel that the government is not adequately addressing the complex problems their communities face that contribute to the rising internecine violence.

Umm el-Fahm Deputy Mayor Wajdi Jameel Jabareen said there is a high unemployment rate among young Arab Israelis. This matches the recent Israel State Comptroller report that 20% of Arab Israelis aged 18-24 do not work or go to school.

“They [the youth of Umm al Fahm] don’t have any hope for their futures; some of them don’t go to school,” he said. “Imagine a young man without a job [being offered] NIS 10,000 shekel to shoot someone.” 

The lack of industry and opportunity has left youth stranded, said Maher Khaliliya who heads Yafia’s local council. 

Jameel Jabareen also blames a loaning system pitted against the Arab community for restricting their opportunities.

“The official banks are not giving loans to any young men for continuing education, and housing. So what do they do? They go to the black market. And if you take money from them, then you are like their hostage,” said Jameel Jabareen.

A lack of access to capital ultimately leads young men to resort to gang-related criminal activity, he said.

In the two decades from 1980-2000, there were between 100-200 casualties related to crime in the Arab sector according to Michael Milshtein, a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya. Yet, since 2000 there have been nearly 1,500 casualties – with over 1,000 falling victim to violence in this sector in the last 10 years alone – according to the Abraham Institute.

Milshtein blames two phenomena for the spike in violence: a lack of police presence in Arab communities and a “dramatic crisis of the youth.”

Echoing Jameel Jabareen, Milshtein said that Arab youth are disconnected from social institutions such as traditional familial structures and education systems, as well as political institutions – including local law enforcement.

IN THE first half of 2020, when the former government promoted programs to establish connections between police and local leaders in the Arab sector, the number of casualties in the area dropped, Milshtein noted.

“Unfortunately, today, you cannot find such a connection and without such a connection, I think that you cannot really imagine that any improvement will take place,” Milshtein said.

Meir Elran, a senior researcher at the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University also blamed the crime spike on broader institutional collapse: The traditional way of life in Arab communities, centered around relations between tribes, is dissipating, creating a power vacuum.

Arab societies’ “willingness to be part of the regular, normative judicial system, or to collaborate with the police is not sufficient to substitute traditional institutions and processes,” Elran said.

Maher Khaliliya, mayor of Yafia, paints a similar picture. A society that is emblematic of peace between

Christians and Islam has been marred by violence.

A lack of industry and opportunity for youth means gang employment for some.

“As a mayor, I don’t have the tools to deal with this,” said Khalilya. “It’s the police and other forces [that do].”

Former MK Yousef Jabareen said: “We believe that they [the Israeli government] have enough information to crack down on these gangs,” but, he added that “no one was really doing any work that would enable access to the necessary information.”

“When we talk to people, they say that they don’t feel safe anymore,” he said. 

Khalilya’s sentiment echoed that of Jabareen. The community hadn’t previously experienced such an atrocity.

“Even our religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, are working together to communicate and in- teract with the victim’s families,” said Khalilya.

It’s not enough to just introduce more police into the police force, they say. Fundamental changes in education, loaning, building accessible housing and collecting illegal weapons are necessary for societal reform.

A lack of reliable law enforcement has led to “a state of lawlessness inside the bigger state,” said Yafia former mayor Imran Kinana.

“We are paying gangsters for our security and protection,” he continued. “We will continue to struggle for our right to live in peace.”

Back at the Marijeh home in Yafia, the mourners continued to stream in, and the question that Diab had asked continued to echo.

“Why, why would someone do this to a 15-year-old?” 