June 2, 2023

After Plateau in 2022, Crime Continues to Surge in Arab Community

Since the start of 2023, 98 Arab individuals were killed in Israel as a result of violence and crime-related incidents, almost all resulting from gunfire. This is a sharp rise relative to the same time last year, which ended with 116 total Arab homicide victims. While most of the victims so far are men, 8 women have been killed as well, most in incidents of domestic violence. Today, a general strike has been called in the Arab community in Israel following a deadly mass shooting on Thursday in the town of Yafa an-Naseriyye, near Nazareth.

Gun violence, organized crime, and concerns for personal safety continue to be the most pressing issues for Arab citizens as indicated in aChord center polls. In 2021, the government passed GR-549, a NIS 2.5 billion plan to combat crime and improve policing in Arab society. When rising homicide rates plateaued in 2022 for the first time since 2018, it was in part attributed to aspects of GR-549 that improved law enforcement agencies’ cooperation around targeting organized crime activities in Arab towns. With homicides rising at an unprecedented rate again in 2023, Arab citizens fear that the new governing administration is not only neglecting these activities but is changing course on efforts to improve police-minority relations.

The Three Bullets episode released on Groundwork podcast amidst this spike follows Maisam Jaljuli, an activist and civil society leader, on her visits to families mourning the loss of their loved ones to violence. It offers an insider perspective into the underlying causes, and the concerns in Arab society about how these issues might be addressed—or aggravated—under the new administration.

Something that I often hear from Jewish Israelis,” says Maria Rashed, the journalist recording the podcast, “is that the high crime rate in my community is our own fault: our culture is backwards, our people are violent. Itamar Ben Gvir, the now Minister of National Security campaigns on this messaging.” In response, Maisam points to a host of root causes for the crisis, starting with poverty: “The whole government neglected the education, housing, bank system, the bank system is awful in Arab society and banks are not willing to give loans to Arab society.” Crime organizations, Maria explains, have filled the void.

The podcast also discussed the challenge of policing in Arab society. For years, civil society leaders working on crime prevention in Arab society have pointed to the need to improve police services in Arab communities, reduce over-policing of Arab citizens, and promote trust in police-minority relations. They “simply don’t trust the police to show up when they need them,” Maisam says, adding that in Arab society, they see police as there to “fight us, not to serve us.”

New Developments in Government Policies 

GR-549: The podcast was recorded in November 2022, right after elections. Both hosts and interviewees expressed concerns about how the newly elected parties might affect these issues. Since, the approach set into motion by GR-549, the NIS 2.5 billion plan to advance crime prevention in Arab society, has indeed been stalled by the new Ministry of National Security. Under GR-549, 1.5 billion NIS of funding was allocated for the Arab Community Crime Prevention department [Hebrew, Seif], and the remaining 0.9 billion NIS – for related community-based programs to enhance law enforcement and services. “Stopping the Bleeding” is one of the most significant programs in the plan. The Police have confirmed that both initiatives are currently paused and under examination for future operation. The remaining budgets are said to have been absorbed into the Ministry of National Security. Some staff members were transferred to the ministry or community action department, while others resigned.

National Guard: Furthermore, in a significant departure from established practices, the National Security Minister set up combat-trained National Guard intended in part for deployment in Jewish-Arab mixed cities, independently of the army and the police. Some security officials and Arab leadership raise concerns: while the motion itself refrains from explicitly mentioning Arabs, the militarized governmental discourse around the bill implementation insinuates the division of power between various law enforcement institutions to be such that the police will deal with ‘ordinary crimes… of ordinary citizens’ whereas the National Guard will be used primarily in crimes involving Israelis who ‘identify with the enemy’. This is poised to target the Arab minority , turning a civilian issue into a national issue, perpetuating the perception of Arab citizens of Israel as enemies, and blurring the line between them and West Bank Palestinians.

Another enforcement initiative, the Combating Illegal Weapons Bill, was passed on March 27, 2023, with support from opposition and coalition members. The current bill temporarily allows search for illegal weapons or any evidence that a violent crime or certain weapons offenses have been committed, without requiring a warrant. Aware of risks associated with widely available illegal firearms in the community, Arab leaders and NGOs have long requested to increase accountability for the gun holders and to confiscate the weapons for years. That said, eliminating the requirement for a judge’s warrant to break into private property for an operational search has raised some criticism even during the debates on a similar bill in the former government. The concern is that such a step can be seen as violation of fundamental right to privacy and transfer of excessive power to the police that would be used primarily in Arab community, while there is increased armament in Israel as a while. This, in turn, if used beyond the fight against organized crime, might intensify tensions in state-minority relations, and contribute to the growing disenchantment in Arab society with the Israeli law enforcement’s attempts to protect the community, as reported in the Abraham Initiatives Personal and Community Security Index (2019).

Recently, several Arab MKs met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and presented a 12-point plan to combat the surge in violent crime in Arab towns. The plan includes government intervention to fight crime, the establishment of a ministerial committee, the appointment of a special commissioner, addressing housing and land allocation issues, and creating a budgeted statutory authority to tackle organized crime. The party also demanded the cessation of gun and ammunition smuggling from IDF bases to criminal organizations. Meanwhile, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir announced his intention to appoint a special commissioner to handle crime and murders in the Arab sector within the next few weeks. Ben-Gvir aims to prioritize the fight against crime, allocate resources, raise police salaries, and establish a National Guard. In response, Hadash-Ta’al insisted on the formation of a ministerial committee led by Netanyahu and a commissioner who directly reports to the prime minister.

Civil Society Organizations Response 

While the number of homicide victims among Arab citizens of Israel is projected to spiral exponentially in 2023, many civil society organizations call on the authorities and the communities to step up and assume responsibility for the matter. Early in April, Abraham initiatives called for all Israelis to join their forces together and protest against the new legislation. A similar initiative is run by the Standing Together movement. Women Against Violence organized a vigil in the memory of Bara’a Jaber Masarwa and her two children to stand up against crime and massacre: “Nothing guarantees us safe living <…> We, as a society, need to raise our voice now, we are running out of time.”

Photos from Civil Society Protests Against Violence

Photo courtesy (from left to right): 1) Mothers for Life and Women Against Weapons Coalition: a group of protesters under the slogan”Citizens Tired of Being Killed” in Tel Aviv holding placards with the names and photos of the crime victims. 2) Galatz Radio Twitter account: Arab leaders start sit-in protest in Jerusalem for government action on deadly crime. 3) WAVO (Women Against Violence Organization): WAVO representatives join the sit-in process in Jerusalem under the slogan “We Accuse”. 4) WAVO Instagram page: The  image captures an invitation to a vigil organized by WAVO in memory of Bara’a Jaber Masarwa and her two children.

Safe Communities, Mothers for LifeWomen Against Weapons, Mothers Against Violence, Gun Free Kitchen Tables keep attempting to draw attention to the surge in violence and the lack of funding, and to raise awareness about the new legislation empowering the use of more excessive force towards Arab citizens and the concurrent disregard from the police to the mayday signal from Arab society. They are alarmed by the way the shifts in policies may contribute to compound excessive policing while reducing police services and response to crime. ACRI (Association for Civil Rights in Israel) recently released a briefing paper shedding light on the shift to law enforcement policies that frame Arab society as a potential threat and weaken the discourse of policing as a service and civilian need in Arab society.

The frequency of joint protests of Jewish and Arab citizens demanding solutions is on the rise. In Tel Aviv, a protest march on Kaplan was underway the slogan “Citizens Tired of Being Killed,” denouncing the treatment of violence within the Arab community. Last week, The High Follow-Up Committee for Arabs of Israel organized three-day protest convoys all the way from the villages in the North to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The demonstration’s focus was to hold the government accountable for the perceived mismanagement of violent crime. The Committee also set up a tent before the government headquarters in Jerusalem, inviting members of the Knesset, mass media and ambassadors to attend the three-day sit-in protest, said to be joined by similar initiatives in Tel-Aviv and Haifa. The leaders of the movement aspire to engage in dialogue with senior police officials and public representatives, aiming to compel the government to prioritize the problem as a national emergency.

Following the deadly mass shooting near Nazareth on June 8th, a general strike has been called in the Arab community in Israel. Five people were shot dead at a carwash in what is the country’s deadliest crime incident since 2009. The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel announced the strike and called for protests to be held over the weekend.

Aida Tuma-Sliman of Hadash – Ta’al emphasized that anyone seeking to address crime in the Arab population ‘should work with the Arab population, not against it. We need to engage in dialogue with the Arab community, rather than talking about Arab crime’. The recent Position Paper from Mada al-Carmel, Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa, on Redefining the Scourge of Crime and Violence in Arab Society argues that previous protest methods, such as demonstrations and meetings, have failed to curb the escalating crime and violence. Instead, it emphasizes the need for a transformative shift in the political landscape to address the underlying socio-political challenges faced by the Arab community and promote equality and justice.

Recommended Resources
"March of the Dead" in Tel Aviv: Uniting Voices Against Crime and Calling for Government Action

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