Israeli Arabs have mixed feelings on intervention to stop violence

ISRAELI-ARAB AFFAIRS: More than 100 Arab citizens have been killed since the beginning of the year in the unprecedented wave of violence and crime in the Arab sector.

MANY UMM EL-FAHM residents say they no longer feel safe because of the dramatic increase in criminal activities, including homicides, most of which remain unsolved. And like many Arab citizens, residents of the city complain that the police are not doing enough to combat violent crime. (photo credit: KHALED ABU TOAMEH)
MANY UMM EL-FAHM residents say they no longer feel safe because of the dramatic increase in criminal activities, including homicides, most of which remain unsolved. And like many Arab citizens, residents of the city complain that the police are not doing enough to combat violent crime.
(photo credit: KHALED ABU TOAMEH)

A statement published by the family of lawyer Ghanem Fahmi Jabareen, who was shot dead on October 8 as he walked out of the Eskandar Mosque in Umm el-Fahm, has shocked many residents of the city, home to more than 60,000 people.

“We, the sons of Fahmi Ibrahim Jabareen and the sons of the late Othman Ibrahim Jabareen, officially announce to all the people of Umm el-Fahm that we are ready to immediately sell all the houses owned by our family,” read the statement, published days after the 43-year-old lawyer was hit with 14 bullets by an unknown assailant.

His brother, Ashraf, said that the family decided to sell all their houses – a total of 12 residences housing 55 to 60 people – to avoid further violence and bloodshed.

“This is a final decision,” he said. “We don’t want violence. We don’t want to fight with anyone. Enough of the bloodletting. We hope and pray to God that my brother will be the last victim of the bloodshed and violence in the Arab sector.”

But Ashraf’s hope that his brother would be the last victim of the wave of violent crime that has hit the Arab sector in recent years has since proved groundless.

 Murder scene in Rama where Education Ministry adviser Sahar Ismael was shot dead on Sunday, August 15, 2021.  (credit: ISRAEL POLICE SPOKESMAN) Murder scene in Rama where Education Ministry adviser Sahar Ismael was shot dead on Sunday, August 15, 2021. (credit: ISRAEL POLICE SPOKESMAN)

On October 19, another resident of Umm el-Fahm, Khalil Ja’u, 25, was shot to death as he left his home on his way to work. Ja’u was the sixth member of his family to be killed in the past two-and-a-half years.

The following day, another member of the Jabareen family, 26-year-old Amru Mohammed Jabareen, was shot to death in the Abu Lahem neighborhood of Umm el-Fahm, bringing to eight the number of homicide cases in the city since the beginning of the year.

More than 100 Arab citizens have been killed since the beginning of the year in the unprecedented wave of violence and crime in the Arab sector.

It’s not clear at this stage whether the Ja’u family, too, intends to follow suit with the Jabareens and sell their houses.

What is evident, however, is that many Umm el-Fahm residents say that they no longer feel safe, because of the dramatic increase in criminal activities, including homicides, most of which remain unsolved. And like many Arab citizens, residents of Umm el-Fahm complain that the Israel Police is not doing enough to combat violent crime.

“The Arab citizens feel insecure and helpless,” said Mudar Younes, chairman of the Forum of Local Arab Councils. “The violence has increased since May, and we are now talking about organized crime and gangs. We want the police to assume their responsibilities towards the Arab sector in the same way they do with the Jewish communities.”

Salem Mansour, a construction contractor from Umm el-Fahm, said that he and many residents were “sad and upset” when they heard that the family members of the slain lawyer have decided to sell their houses.

“The killers remain free while the victims are being forced to sell their properties,” said the 48-year-old Mansour. “I’m afraid the day will come when more people will start selling their homes because of the dangerous situation.

“Many Arabs buy weapons not because they want to carry out criminal activities, but in order to defend themselves and their families. When a Jew is murdered, the perpetrators are often caught within 24 hours. But when the victim is an Arab, the police don’t do much. More than 80% of the murder cases in the Arab sector have not been solved. In the case of lawyer Jabareen, the identity of the killers is known to everyone here. Have they been arrested? No.”

The police say that Jabareen, before his death, had filed several complaints about death threats he received from some local residents.

“The police work professionally and in accordance with the law,” the police said in a statement. “The complaints filed by the victim have been investigated, and some are still ongoing, including investigations of suspects and evidence collection.”

According to some Umm el-Fahm residents, the lawyer was apparently killed in the context of a long-standing dispute between his family and the Baraghla family. The nature of the dispute remains unclear.

Fearing retaliation, the Baraghla family rushed to issue a statement denying any link to the murder.

“First of all, we have mercy on the deceased lawyer Ghanem Fahmi Jabareen, and we ask God Almighty to have mercy on him,” the statement read. “We heard rumors that we are behind the murder of Ghanem. We call upon all of our people to stop such rumors and work on what helps in spreading an atmosphere of discipline and calm. We declare it loud and clear that we have nothing to do with this crime, which we condemn.”

ON WEDNESDAY, there were more male and female beggars from the West Bank on the streets of Umm el-Fahm than police officers. The main streets are filled with large billboards greeting Muslims on the occasion of Mawlid al-Nabi, Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.

One of the main streets features graffiti with a black-and-white map of pre-1948 Palestine next to the writing: “From the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea.” Not far from there, by contrast, shopping malls with Hebrew signs boast several Israeli firms, including the Super-Pharm pharmacy chain and the Mahsanei Hashmal electronics store.

This contradiction reflects the so-called crisis of identity in Umm el-Fahm and other Arab communities. While some citizens identify themselves as Arab-Israelis, others insist on describing themselves as Palestinians. According to a 2017 survey conducted by Prof. Sammy Smooha of the University of Haifa, 16% of the Arab population prefers the term “Israeli Arab,” while the largest and fastest-growing proportion prefers “Palestinians in Israel.”

The controversy surrounding the identity of the Arab citizens is also manifested in the debate over what needs to be done to end the violence and bloodletting.

The talk about involving the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the IDF in the battle against violent crime has divided the Arab-Israeli community. Opponents fear that such a measure would take the Arabs back to the days when they were subject to military rule between 1949 and 1966. Proponents, on the other hand, argue that the state should use all its security agencies to assist the police in the crackdown on criminal gangs.

Umm el-Fahm acting Mayor Zaki Aghbariyah says he is opposed to the involvement of the Shin Bet and IDF.

“The police are the only party capable of dealing with the violent crime,” he said. “The police have all the capabilities, but they are not offering any solutions, and this does not bode well for the Arabs.

“We hear about long-term plans, but violence and crime in the Arab sector are increasing. The long-term plans are good and acceptable, but they are for the future. What do we do now to solve the problem?”

Aghbariyah clarified that while he opposes involving the Shin Bet and IDF in the battle against violent crime, he nevertheless has no problem with administrative detentions of criminals.

“We hear that some parties, politicians and legal experts are opposed to the government’s plan to use harsh measures, including administrative detentions and a ban on meeting with lawyers,” he said. “I support administrative detentions. The crime in the Arab sector has become a security threat; it is a real threat to society. We can’t afford to wait any longer. This is a state of emergency.

“There’s talk about involving the Shin Bet and IDF. What about the police? They managed to fight crime and violence in Jewish communities. They succeeded in eliminating most of the organized crime gangs there. But we still don’t see tangible results in the Arab sector. The police say that they have so far seized 15,000 illegal weapons. This is not a big achievement, given that there are nearly 400,000 illegal weapons.

“I believe that a state with so many security agencies is capable of putting an end to this phenomenon.”

A senior official with the Umm el-Fahm Municipality said that the municipality was working closely with the police to “stop the shootings and killings.”

The municipality, the official added, continues to work with the police to end the violent crime.

“We also have reconciliation committees to solve disputes between rival families and individuals. But the municipality does not have security agencies or a police force. The municipality has a role in maintaining contact with the state institutions to assist them in eliminating the phenomenon. For us, this is a critical issue and a top priority. We can’t plan for the future as long as there’s violence. Our people are living in fear.”

Husam Mahajneh, a local businessman, said that the police bear “full responsibility” for the ongoing wave of criminal activities.

“The police claim that they are doing their utmost to collect illegal weapons,” he said. “But the feeling here is that the authorities have failed. Every day, we see young men carrying weapons in public. The criminals are no longer afraid of the police. What is happening in the Arab sector is a civil war.

“The main problem is that the police and other state institutions consider the Arabs an enemy. They don’t care when an Arab kills an Arab. They want the Shin Bet to intervene because they see the Arabs as a threat to Israel’s national security and not as equal citizens.”

Retired schoolteacher Mohammed Aghbariyah, 74, said he, too, opposes involving the Shin Bet and the IDF in the battle against violent crime in the Arab sector.

“We live in the State of Israel, not the West Bank,” he remarked. “If this happens, we will return to the days when the Arab citizens lived under military rule. How come the government didn’t order the Shin Bet to help fight crime in Netanya and other Israeli cities? Will this be the first step toward stripping the Arabs of their citizenship?”

Some residents of Umm el-Fahm scoffed at the idea of deploying the Shin Bet to assist in the war on violent crime in the Arab sector. Their main argument: Most of the criminal gangs are linked to the Shin Bet in one way or another.

As one resident put it, “Involving the Shin Bet in combating crime in Arab society is like an owner of a herd of livestock asking a wolf to protect the herd.”

“The Israeli media have revealed that many of the criminals work as collaborators [with the security authorities],” said political activist Khalil Mahameed. “Many of those caught with illegal weapons have been released after a day or two on instructions from the Shin Bet. The Shin Bet is already present in our society, but it does not care about criminal activities. They only care about issues that directly affect Israel’s security. The Arabs are not an enemy of the state. We are not a security threat.”

According to Mahameed, the idea of holding suspected criminals in detention without trial will not contribute to the battle against violent crime.

“Placing the criminals under administrative detention means that they remain innocent because they have not been officially charged or sentenced,” he pointed out. “We prefer to see the criminals and murderers stand trial and receive lengthy prison terms. Only ignorant people would support such an undemocratic measure.”

The few Umm el-Fahm residents who support involving the Shin Bet in the battle to combat violence and crime prefer to speak anonymously. It’s not easy (or safe) for an Arab to openly come out in favor of any move related to the Shin Bet.

“I have no problem with the Shin Bet helping the police,” said a female nurse from Umm el-Fahm. “But this should be on a temporary basis and without affecting the status of the Arabs as equal citizens. The situation is very dangerous, and there’s a need for tough measures. We are in a state of war. If we don’t stop the criminals and murders, our society will be destroyed.”

Abu Ali, a 54-year-old gas station worker, said that he, too, does not oppose the involvement of the Shin Bet and the use of administrative detentions.

“The police don’t have the tools to deal with this problem,” he said. “I see no problem why the Shin Bet or any other security agency should not be involved. Our young men are being killed on the streets almost every day. If the Shin Bet can stop the murders and shootings, that’s good. If they want to send the CIA or the FBI, that’s also fine with me.

“But we must not forget that our leaders also bear responsibility. What are they doing in the Knesset? Why are they not helping us? We can’t sit on the side and blame the authorities alone for the violence and crime. The violence is like a brutal monster that is devouring our young people.”

The frustration with the Arab leaders is shared by several Umm el-Fahm residents.

“Instead of caring for their people, the Arab politicians are turning their backs on us and are busy fighting each other,” said construction worker Ibrahim Aghbariyah.

“We need to stop the violence. The bloodshed is continuing, and our children and women are being killed. The Arab Knesset members don’t care about us. Why don’t they move their offices to Umm el-Fahm and Nazareth to help combat the violence and crime?”

On Wednesday evening, the Umm el-Fahm Municipality held an emergency meeting following the killing of the three local residents.

After the meeting, the municipality called for a general strike in the city on Thursday and instructed mosque imams to dedicate Friday prayer sermons to talking about tolerance and forgiveness.

The municipality also urged the police to intensify their efforts to combat the violence and crime, and called for holding a sit-in strike in front of the local police station on Saturday.

Abu Shakra, director of the Umm el-Fahm Art Gallery, commented: “The people who are being killed are our sons. We can’t avoid responsibility for what’s happening. We need to embrace and protect our young people. We must offer them hope for a better future. This is our duty as a society. In my opinion, every killing or shooting is a crime against humanity and society.

“We are not witnessing a civil war in Umm el-Fahm, but there’s a minority of people that is responsible for the crime and violence.

“As a citizen, I’m demanding security. We want to feel safe like the people in Tel Aviv.”•