Monday, 11 October 2021 18:58

Israeli Arabs warn government not to adopt drastic measures in tackling crime wave

Naftali Bennett: has pledged that his new government would take the issue of crime within the Arab community seriously. Photograph: Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty

Israeli Arabs are warning against drastic measures being considered by the government to tackle an unprecedented crime wave that has swept through their community, saying the civil rights of the country’s Arab minority must be upheld.

A 43-year-old man died on Monday from wounds sustained after he was shot in the Galilee city of Umm al-Fahm, making him the 98th murder victim in Israel’s Arab community this year.

Some 80 per cent of the victims were killed by gunfire, mostly from criminal gangs. Only 21 per cent of the violent crimes in the Arab community this year have been solved, compared to the 50 per cent of solved cases in the Jewish community.

Last month prime minister Naftali Bennett pledged that after years of neglect, his new government would take the issue seriously, encouraged by the United Arab List coalition partner, which has made the problem its top priority.

However, a plan to allow the Israel security agency Shin Bet, the intelligence branch that monitors West Bank Palestinians, to operate inside Israeli Arab towns and villages, was deemed illegal and was condemned by Israeli Arab leaders.

Now the police propose using another tool Israel employs against West Bank Palestinians – detention without trial for individuals suspected of murder or of planning a murder.

Some government officials have cautioned against such a course and the Federation of Local Arab Authorities also criticised the plan, calling it an “outrageous and irresponsible step”.

They accused the police of proposing anti-democratic measures, stressing that when organised crime raised its head in Jewish-majority cities the police easily brought the problem under control without resorting to policies that violated human rights.

Young men

“Can the Israel police really not overcome a bunch of criminal gangs?”asked Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint Arab List opposition party, at a recent demonstration against the violence. “Of course it can but, to put it simply, it treats us as its backyard.”

Israel’s Arab minority accounts for about one-fifth of the population, but in recent years it has accounted for the vast majority of the country’s murders, and this year the number of fatalities has soared.

Most of the victims are young men linked to turf wars between rival criminal gangs or feuds between extended families but many of those killed are innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. Many Arab citizens report that it is no longer safe to walk the streets.

Last month an Arab Lives Matter protest group was formed but in contrast to the Black Lives Matter organisation, they called for more policing, not less. Activists accused successive Israeli governments of turning a blind eye to the problem as long as it was confined to Arab communities.