Violent crime could lead to civil war, Arab expert warns

“Everyone is buying weapons these days. It’s become as easy as going to purchase a meal at McDonald’s."

 Islamic Jihad gunmen attend a funeral of one of the Palestinians killed late Saturday night in clashes with the IDF in the West Bank village of Burqin. (photo credit: REUTERS/RANEEN SAWAFTA)
Islamic Jihad gunmen attend a funeral of one of the Palestinians killed late Saturday night in clashes with the IDF in the West Bank village of Burqin.

The ongoing wave of violent crime in the Arab sector could lead to civil war, Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, warned on Tuesday. He is co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, an organization that aims to create positive social change in the field of Jewish-Arab relations.

The police are the only body that could fight violent crime in Arab communities, provided that they have the backing of the political establishment, Abu Ras told The Jerusalem Post.

“We may be headed toward civil war. Is this what the government wants?” Abu Ras asked. “Everyone is buying weapons these days. It’s become as easy as going to purchase a meal at McDonald’s.

“More and more weapons are being directed against the police and Jewish residents,” he said. “Therefore, it is in the interest of the state to fight against the criminals and thugs, because we are all being affected. The police are capable of doing the job, but it’s all in the hands of the political echelon. It all depends on a political decision by the government.”

Abu Ras – a resident of the town of Kalansuwa in the Triangle and an expert in Arab politics and Arab-Jewish relations – pointed out that the Israel Police was effective in enforcing coronavirus restrictions in the Arab sector, including imposing fines on people for not wearing masks.

“It’s all a matter of law and order,” he said. “This shows that when the police want to do their job, they are capable of doing so.”

Noting that more than 90 Arabs have been killed in violent crime since the beginning of the year, Abu Ras said that there were 16 murders in September alone. “These are horrific numbers,” he said.

ABU RAS listed three “deep causes” for the ongoing wave of criminal activities, including homicide.

The first, he said, is related to land disputes and the severe housing crisis in the Arab sector.

“Many of the crimes in the Arab sector are related to disputes over land and the housing crisis,” he said. “There is competition over public space. We are not talking about privately owned land, but land belonging to local authorities. People are grabbing more and more land, and each person wants to take land that does not belong to him.”

The second “deep cause,” Abu Ras said, is related to lack of education and employment among Arab Israelis.

“We have a generation of young people aged 18 to 23 who don’t study or work on a regular basis,” he said. “This generation represents about 30% of our people. Therefore, it is easy for them to get involved with crime gangs. The gangs try to recruit these young people in return for money. They give a young man a salary of NIS 10,000 and a car, thus boosting his self-esteem. The young man, all of a sudden, feels that he’s important and that he has a job. But this is not a job. Shooting at people or monitoring their movements or carrying out illegal activities such as weapons and drug trafficking is not a job. This, of course, is completely unacceptable.”

The third reason behind the surge of violent crimes in the Arab sector is connected to the failure of the state to provide various services to its Arab citizens, according to Abu Ras.

“The Arabs have long been marginalized and denied many services, including financial services and budgets,” he said. “There is no equality between Jews and Arabs when it comes to providing services by the state. When there are no bank branches in a certain area, many Arabs are forced to resort to the black market to get a loan, and the interest they are required to pay is very high.”

Abu Ras said the police scaled down their presence in the Arab sector after the October 2000 riots, during which 13 Arabs were killed by police officers.

“The Israel Police left the Arab communities, creating a vacuum,” he said. “This coincided with a battle waged by the police against crime gangs in Jewish areas. Consequently, some of the Jewish criminals moved their activities to Arab towns and villages. That’s how the weapons and drug-trafficking began. The Arabs, meanwhile, also started forming their own crime gangs. Most of the crime gangs in the country today belong to Arab citizens and are operating in the Arab communities. When the Israel police abandoned the Arab communities and created a vacuum there, they were replaced by the crime gangs that are responsible for the black market and extortion. In the absence of the police and enforcement of law and order, the criminals are carrying out illegal activities, and they are even settling disputes between people.”

 Dr. Thabet Abu Ras (credit: Courtesy) Dr. Thabet Abu Ras (credit: Courtesy)

AFTER THE October 2000 events, the police and Shin Bet internal security agency began recruiting young Arabs as “informers,” Abu Ras claimed.

“Thousands of Arabs work with the police and Shin Bet,” he added. “The problem is that most of these people and the crime gangs are protected by the police and Shin Bet. These criminals and thugs are above the law. We saw in many cases that the police know the identity of the shooters and those collecting ‘protection money’ but refrain from taking action against them. We have reached the conclusion that the police are not interested in a confrontation with these collaborators because they derive benefit from them.”

Abu Ras said that if the police and Shin Bet want to solve the problem of crime in the Arab sector, “they must stop protecting the criminals and thugs. There’s a feeling that the police have good relations with the criminals and crime gangs. I believe that the police have the tools to combat crime. They succeeded in fighting crime in the Jewish communities, and there’s no reason why they should not be successful in the Arab sector.”

Abu Ras noted, however, that not all the violence in the Arab sector is crime-related.

“There are also family feuds, and we have a role as a society to work to preserve the fabric and unity of our society,” he said. “We need political, religious and social activists to make peace between people. The efforts should focus on reconciliation and mediation between people. I believe we are not doing enough in this regard.”

Some of the violence, Abu Ras noted, is also related to control of municipalities in the Arab sector.

“The government and police need to pay attention to what’s going on in the local authorities,” he said. “I’m from the town of Kalansuwa, where the director-general of the municipality was shot and killed 10 years ago. This year, there was an attempt to kill the director-general of the municipality. In the last election campaign in 2018, one of the leading candidates was forced to withdraw from the race under the threat of weapons. They fired shots at him and his wife and children. Additionally, explosive devices were placed under the cars of municipality employees.”

ASKED IF he supported the idea of involving the Shin Bet in the battle against violent crime, Abu Ras replied, “I’m not going to tell the state what needs to be done to stop violent crime. In any case, the Shin Bet is already present in the Arab sector. The Shin Bet was also involved in the battle against the spread of the coronavirus.

“We want the Shin Bet to stop backing the thugs and collaborators and guard IDF bases,” he said. “More than 80% of the weapons that end up in the Arab communities come from army bases. Does anyone really believe that the IDF and its intelligence agencies are incapable of protecting their bases?”

Abu Ras told the Post that the Arabs, on the other hand, must step up the pressure on the criminals and thugs.

“I believe that 99% of our people are peaceful,” he said. “Only one percent of our people are criminals or connected to crime. The Arab leaders have an important role, especially in raising awareness of this issue. The leaders need to persuade the people not to deal with crime gangs.

“Many people go to the gangs to solve their problems,” he said. “If two people have a dispute over a plot of land, one of them resorts to a crime gang to solve the matter. If someone wants a loan, he goes to a gang. The Arab leaders must tell the people not to deal with the gangs. Some of the criminals are treated with respect, especially in public events such as weddings. This is disgraceful.”