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Israeli candidates treat violence in Arab towns as niche problem

Instead of treating the rise of violence in Arab society as a national problem, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu are only making Arab Israelis promises to remedy the situation.

Walid Shahab, 14, was pronounced dead Oct. 18 after being shot Oct. 14 outside a pizzeria in the village of Jisr az-Zarqa in the north of Israel. It was the second murder in that village in a week. Jalal Amash, 17, was gunned down in the village Oct. 10. The Abraham Initiatives, a nongovernmental organization that promotes equal rights between Jews and Arabs, documented 92 Arab civilians in Israel who have lost their lives to the wave of violent crime in the sector since the beginning of the year.

Too many Arab children have been killed, whether intentionally as targets, or as the victims of stray bullets, simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many Arab Israeli parents are not allowing their children to play outside the house or go alone to the store.

Continuous violence is one of the reasons the Arab community has lost faith in the political system, particularly its Knesset representatives. As a result, a sharp decline in Arab participation in the upcoming Nov. 1 election is anticipated.

The problem of crime and violence in the Arab sector has become more of a a niche than national issue in Israel. Neither Prime MinisterYair Lapid nor his rival, opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu, bothered to tweet about the death of Shahab, even though they're quick to respond whenever a Jewish teenager dies in a dramatic incident.

Judging by their statements and social media posts, it seems that for both, violence in the Arab sector is an internal Arab issue that has no place in the general Israeli discourse on the eve of the election. They address the Arab community directly on this issue, but do not bring it up to the general public.

On Oct. 18, in an interview on the Arabic-language Hala TV, Lapid said that his government had approved a program to fight crime in the Arab sector, and that he expects that “this year will be 10% better than last year in terms of crime.”

Netanyahu, for his part, raised the issue of violence in Arab society Oct. 12 in a video on his Arabic-language Facebook page, calling on the government to “restore civil order and the rule of law in Arab towns and villages, restore personal security to the streets, to the families, to the mothers.” He even said, “I am personally committed to pouring everything I can into this task,” as if he had been prevented from dealing the issue in his 12 years in office.

The frustration was perhaps best expressed by Balad leader Sami Abu Shehadeh in reaction to a Yesh Atid party billboard in the Arab city of Nazareth. It read, “Lapid and Yesh Atid are for personal safety and security.” Lapid, he said, would never dare to post a similar sign in Tel Aviv in Hebrew, because there, personal safety and security are basic issues and not a campaign pledge.

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