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Arab-Israelis deplore growing violence, political indifference

The recent killing of an Israeli Arab journalist highlights the depth of the problem of violence and crime within the Israeli Arab community.
A torched observation post is seen outside a religious Jewish school following night clashes between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews, Lod, Israel, May 11, 2021.

Growing violence within the Israeli Arab society has featured in several election campaigns in the past. A recent report by the Abraham Initiatives stated that 78 Israeli Arabs have lost their lives to date in 2022, in circumstances tied to violence and crime. Still, ahead of the Nov. 1 elections, Israeli Arab politicians were focused this week on another issue — that of their future Knesset lists.

Drama transpired Sept. 15 as the process of submitting candidate lists to the central election commission ended. The Arab Joint List broke apart moments before the lists were submitted. Balad, one of the three factions making up the Arab Joint List, announced that it would run alone and split off from its partners to the list — Hadash and Taal — following differences of opinion around the sixth slot on the list, which was set aside for Balad. 

Israeli Arabs are tired of political machinations. They are tired of their representatives dealing with issues others than those most important to them, namely the growing violence and yearslong lack of health-care and education infrastructure. Their despair explains predictions for an especially low turnout at the upcoming elections. In fact, a News 13 poll conducted Sept. 15 showed that 47% of Israeli Arabs consider battling violence the most important issue in this election. Evidently, many of them care little about the internal quarrels within the Arab Joint List.

Indeed, one can understand the Arab community, as shooting incidents have become routine and no month, or week, goes by without a murder. If in the past murders involved criminals, we see in recent years that the phenomenon has expanded and members of the public have become targets. 

This is exactly what happened Sept. 4 when journalist Nidal Agbaria, 45, was shot dead next to his home in the city of Umm al-Fahm. The following day, Manar Hajjaj, 34, and her daughter Khadra, 14, were fatally shot in Lod, and her other daughter Maryam was critically injured. 

These violent incidents shook the entire Arab community and Israeli society in general, sharpening the message that violence is still here and will not disappear soon. Violence keeps resurging despite the efforts of the outgoing government and the launch of Operation Safe Passage.

The operation has achieved some impressive gains that include arrests and the seizure of weapons, money and luxury cars, but the number of incidents and victims speak for themselves. According to the Abraham Initiatives report, only seven indictments have been issued this year in the 78 cases. 

Clearly, this is not the situation the Arab community hoped for with the formation of the government and the inclusion of an Arab Party — Ra’am — in the coalition. People had hoped that many problems, including violence, the Israeli Arab public are exposed to would be solved with Ra’am in the coalition. 

True, in comparison to last year, we can hope for a slight decline; 126 people were murdered in 2021 in the Arab community. Still, discussing this with people in the street, one gets the impression that the Arab public still does not feel any change on the ground. Many people have lost their sense of personal security, and even Arab journalists admit openly that they fear to conduct investigations or publicize names of criminals and prefer instead for Jewish colleagues to do so. 

Deputy Minister of Public Security Yoav Segalovitz, who has led Operation Safe Passage to fight violence and crime among the Arab public, said in conversation with Al-Monitor, “All state systems have joined the fight. There is a meaningful change toward serious crime and criminal organizations — out of 1,303 targets classified as 'causing crime,' 364 have been arrested and processed.”

Segalovitz added, “There is real damage to the economic engine of the [Israeli Arab] criminals. Money and property adding up to 368 million Israeli shekels [$107 million] have been seized in operations against criminals. We are hurting the activity of the black market. … There is activity against the phenomenon of fictive receipts. We are in close contact with the local authorities and cooperate with them, and it is very important to the success of the operation.” 

As to the question of why Arab citizens do not feel any real change from the past, he said, “The activity of Operation Safe Passage will continue for a long time in order to restore quiet and personal security to the Arab residents of Israel. Any waves of crime or violence will not impact the continuation of activity against the criminals. The government has made it a central goal to treat and will continue to treat it this way.”

Not everyone is as optimistic as Segalovitz. Attorney Reda Jaber is the director of the Aman Center – the Arab Center for a Safe Society, which addresses violence in the Arab community. Talking with Al-Monitor, Jaber said, “In the Jewish society such topics are dealt with unrelated to any political developments. There is full and unconditional commitment of the governmental system. But this is not the case when it comes to the Arab society. Here, the governmental commitment is not detached from politics, and so, when a minister or a civil servant who are trying to lead a change are replaced, we can expect a dangerous regression.”

Jaber said, “The problem is not just political, but also structural. It is at the core of government mechanisms that are supposed to deal with it with a full civic commitment. When it comes to the Arab community this commitment isn’t there.”

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