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'Arab Lives Matter' sweeps Twitter as 3 Arab-Israelis die in 24 hours

Three murders in one day have prompted Arab-Israelis fed up with violence in their towns to demand action over social media.
JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Three murders struck Arab-Israeli society in less than 24 hours in the Negev region and in the localities of Zarzir and Taibe. The three cases joined an already long list of 89 Arab-Israelis were killed since the beginning of the year, according to the Abraham Initiatives fund.

Protests in the form of marches, demonstrations and social media initiatives have arisen to stop the violence within Arab-Israeli society and urge the authorities and police to dedicate more resources to that end. This latest series of murders have sparked a spontaneous protest over social networks that spread quickly over Twitter.

It began with a shooting at a wedding in Taibe on Sept. 20. Alaa Sarsour, 25, was killed and a number of wedding guests were injured. Shortly after the incident, Sheren Falah Saab tweeted, “My name is Sheren. I am an Arab citizen of the State of Israel, and Arab lives matter.” She added the hashtag #Arab_Lives_Matter. Her post and others by other activists started a tremendous wave of similar tweets, with the same hashtag appearing in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

These new hashtags echo the slogan "Black Lives Matter" that exploded in the United States in the course of the wide protests against police brutality and institutionalized racism affecting the African-American community. However, in contrast to the US protests, the protest in Israel expressed anger, frustration and disappointment over the police's helplessness and inaction amid the violence that has spread in recent years in Israel’s Arab society.

Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev has also used the hashtag. Bar Lev wrote, “Decades of neglect, disregard and fear of getting into the thick of the problems of the Arab sector, and the prevailing assumption that 'as long as they kill each other, this is their problem.' In the first 100 days in office, I have accomplished more than has been done in the last decades in dealing with crime in the Arab society. Yes, Arab_Lives_Matter.”

In interviews, the minister also made it clear that he will ramp up efforts once the state budget is approved, including recruiting 1,100 police officers, and that the Shin Bet will be asked to assist.

But will such efforts solve the problem? Some activists believe that a solution will only become possible when Israeli society and the Hebrew-language media recognize the crisis for what it is. Social activist Nadin Abou Laban from Ramle, told Al-Monitor, “The goal is to raise a new discourse in the media and raise the subject of violence in Arab society to the national agenda. The time has come for Israel’s Hebrew-language media to take interest in the situation. The protest made writers and editors open their eyes and talk to us instead of talking about us.”

Laban went on, “It all began spontaneously, but now that we head the list of ‘hot’ topics, it could open the door to wider media coverage. As everyone knows, the media can be used to influence the country’s agenda.”

Last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett launched a national plan to combat crime in Arab society and designated a new police department to handle the issue. “Those who live in [Arab] Taibe should have the same physical security as those who live in [Jewish-majority] Kfar Saba,” said Bennett Aug. 11. Still, despite his grand words and actions, another 17 Arab citizens have been murdered since the program began.

In the previous Knesset, Deputy Minister for Public Security Yoav Segalovitz served as chair of the Lobby for the Fight Against Governmental Corruption and the Lobby to Combat Violence in Arab Society. Last February, in that capacity and as Knesset member for Yesh Atid, he participated in a press conference in Taibe, where his party presented its own plan for fighting violence within Arab-Israeli society.

This week, Segalovitz told Al-Monitor, “Fighting the waves of intolerable violence and crime in Arab society is a government goal of the highest order. The prime minister himself is involved in these efforts. We are in an emergency situation and we treat it as such. The Ministry of Public Security and all the authorities and relevant offices are working together to break the cycle of violence and return peace and quiet to Arab citizens. The government has appointed me to deal with this topic and as the one organizing the struggle against violence and crime in Arab society, I know that we will need cooperation of the public itself and its leaders.”

Segalovitz went on, “The Arab Lives Matter protest is an important and just one, rooted in the ongoing frustration of citizens who have been neglected for too long — citizens who only want to live quietly and safely. It is our responsibility, and we will do everything in our power to make that happen.”

Fadi Maklada, another early user of the hashtag, told Al-Monitor, “We hope the protest will continue and spread past the virtual borders of Twitter and Facebook. We are talking about a protest of young people who are sick and tired. What we need now is a multi-system program to address crime properly, but which will also create an alternative for young Arabs so that the demand for crime and violence will diminish. Simultaneously, the program would deter and punish those who continue the cycle of violence.”

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