There is simply no way to ignore the rising figures of serious crime in the Arab sector in Israel. The figures speak for themselves: there have been 100 murders in the Arab community this year alone.
It should be noted that this number relates only to the fatalities. There are, in addition, numerous attempted murders and other attacks that fortunately don’t result in death. One Bedouin youth is in critical condition having been shot 14 times last week, apparently in revenge for a murder relating to clan warfare.
Last Thursday, in a particularly disconcerting incident, two Israel Police officers were attacked in Kafr Kassem by members of an apparently municipal-affiliated internal security force. The domestic security force, Al-Hirasa, operates under the auspices of the Islamic Movement, which also controls the Kafr Kassem municipality. The police officers were making an arrest after responding to a call about a violent incident.
Israel Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Kobi Shabtai presented figures last week showing a 22% increase in illegal weapons infractions. Of the more than 4,730 arrests made so far in 2021 relating to gun ownership violations and illegal shootings, 92% were in the Arab community. Moreover, 430 pistols, 120 semi-automatic rifles and more than 400 guns have been seized, as well as thousands of bullets. Many of these weapons have been stolen from the IDF.
There has also been an increase in extortion of protection money by criminal gangs this year.
There are many explanations for the rising lawlessness in the Arab sector. The tribal clan system certainly aggravates the situation creating an atmosphere of almost open warfare between rival families vying for control of cities and communities, and furthering a cycle of violence with revenge attacks spreading out over years. There are also the so-called “honor killings” of women usually murdered by their own relatives for supposedly infringing strict behavioral codes.
Although law-abiding Arab citizens are obviously eager to end this ongoing violence that is making lives intolerable, in many incidents they are afraid to contact the police in case they are themselves attacked by the criminals in retaliation. When police officers themselves are openly attacked – and a police volunteer was killed last month – this too deters concerned citizens and municipal officials from speaking out and getting involved.
Arab MKs have denounced the violence, but instead of backing police efforts, there have been complaints that the police were singling out Arab citizens. Today, the complaint most frequently heard is almost the opposite.
The composition of the current coalition, including Ra’am, the United Arab List, offers the opportunity to tackle the problem with the full force it deserves. Ultimately, no progress will be made without the cooperation of the Arab citizens themselves, both in terms of education toward different social norms and encouraging seeing the police as a positive force and not the enemy; and helping create a socioeconomic horizon that provides local youth with hope instead of an incentive to join the tribal and criminal gangs.
With the increase in violence, there has been more discussion to involve the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and its cutting-edge intelligence capabilities that could help thwart attacks and lead to arrests of the major figures behind the violence. During the corona pandemic, the Shin Bet was used to track the spread of the deadly disease in the civilian sector. It was a declaration of war on the disease.
It is time to declare war on the violence and lawlessness emanating from the Arab sector. Involving the Shin Bet must be done carefully, setting out strategic goals with clear Knesset oversight about the way those goals are achieved.
Care must also be taken not to accidentally reveal Shin Bet techniques and technology, but this can be done. Critics will say that employing the Shin Bet for civilian violence is a slippery slope that should be avoided, but the violence, too, marks a slippery slope. Attacks on the police and other symbols of the state indicate a problem verging on domestic terrorism that might already have crossed the red line.
The violence in the Arab sector should be seen as a national security threat, and thus all legal measures must be taken to tackle it.