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Gun violence soaring in Israel's Arab community, as government cuts funding

After boasting in his election campaign that his primary goal in the Knesset would be curbing violence and crime, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has already cut funding for such programs in the Arab community.
Israeli Arab men take part in a protest after a student was killed in a reported police shootout this week, in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Umm-Al Fahem on February 5, 2021. - Hundreds of Arab Israelis demonstrated protesters defied coronavirus restrictions on gatherings to demonstrate in front of the police station in the Arab-Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)

BAQA AL-GHARBIYYEH, Israel — The Israeli police force has published data on its campaign against violence in the Arab sector since January, revealing that it has seized, among other weapons, 351 illegally owned pistols during that period alone.

The report released last week identified some 1,800 people as the "main generators of crime within Israeli-Arab society.”

But two days before the report came out, Israel’s Kan broadcaster revealed that National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the far-right Jewish Power party, had decided to cancel the budget allotted to another anti-crime campaign. The “Stop the Bleeding” program, based on a 2021 government resolution, had been intended to combat violence and crime in the Arab sector on a civil society level. Ben-Gvir complained that the operator of the program — the Joint Distribution Committee — was a “left-wing organization.”

Ben-Gvir’s decision comes amid a palpable surge in violence and crime in the Arab community. Last week alone, two Arab citizens of Israel were shot dead. The first was a member of the Bedouin community in the south, and the second was a resident of the village of Rama in the north. Their deaths brought the total number of casualties due to violence in the Arab sector up to 36 since the start of the year.

This figure is especially worrying as further evidence of the sharp rise in violence during the current Netanyahu government, compared to the previous government under Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett. At this time in 2022, the number of Arabs murdered stood at 17. The total now is more than double that and already at a third of the total number of victims in 2022: 111 for the entire year.

Ben-Gvir had based his 2022 election campaign on slogans such as “It’s Ben-Gvir time!” and “Bringing security back to the streets.” His decision to cancel the “Stop the Bleeding” program and the rise in deaths suggest that the minister is focused on bringing security back to Israeli Jews, not to the Arab population.

Some in Israel claim that Ben-Gvir has failed to evolve from a campaigning politician to a working minister. They say that he is continuing to focus on winning “likes” on social media. For the past few weeks, he has been verbally attacking demonstrators opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform and blaming State Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara for his failures.

As mentioned above, the “Stop the Bleeding” program was directed toward Arab civil society. Intended to complement police activities, it was a joint initiative by the National Security Ministry, the National Authority for Community Safety, the Office of the Attorney General, the Institute of Criminology of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Israeli police force, the prime minister’s office and the Joint Distribution Committee. The seven villages where the program has been implemented (Tur’an, Tamra, Jisr az-Zarka, Umm al-Fahm, Lod and Rahat) have been referred to as “red” localities for their high crime rates.

Knesset member Yoav Segalovich, who served in the previous government as deputy minister of internal security, opposes Ben Gvir’s decision. He was in charge of implementing government plans to fight crime in Arab communities and has been invested for years in such efforts. His office released a statement reading, “It is unfortunate that in every field, including this field, Ben-Gvir is trying to have another round, politically and in the media. This is yet another example of his incompetence. The program must not be stopped. I call on the government and the prime minister to intervene. The program was decided upon by the government itself. It is not Ben-Gvir‘s private property to do with as he pleases.”

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