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Why is crime spiking in Arab-Israeli community, as murders nearly double in 2023?

Leaders of Arab society staged a three-day sit-in in Jerusalem against the inefficiency of the government in fighting the growing number of deadly violent incidents.
Leaders of Arab society staged a three-day sit-in in Jerusalem, May 29, 2023.

Israeli-Arab politicians and activists have been demonstrating continuously since Monday in Jerusalem against the continued increase in violence and crime within the Israeli-Arab society, calling on the Benjamin Netanyahu government and law-enforcement authorities to adopt more efficient policies to curb the danger.

Several violent incidents have occurred within the Israeli-Arab society over the past few days. A man in his 50s was shot and killed on Tuesday while driving his car in the Israeli-Arab town Umm al-Fahm. A 50-year-old woman was injured in the deadly incident. Police are now verifying whether Tuesday’s criminal incident is related to another shooting incident that took place in Umm al-Fahm last Friday, where a 26-year-old man and a 5-year-old boy were injured. A 30-year-old man was killed on Monday in the Bedouin village of Hura. Police suspect he was intentionally rammed by a vehicle after an earlier brawl. Last week, a 60-year-old man was shot and killed in the town of Ramle by gunmen waiting outside his house. 

The spike in violence is largely attributed to crime, gang-related and domestically motivated activity in the community but it is not sparing innocent bystanders. 

According to Haaretz, 83 Israeli Arabs have been murdered in the country since the beginning of the year. In comparison, 111 Israeli Arabs were killed in all of 2022 and 128 in 2021. Out of the 70 murder cases registered by the end of April, police resolved only six of them. Out of the 111 murder cases registered in 2022, only 25 cases were resolved. 

Israeli police data shows that in the years 2018-2022, 690 deadly incidents took place with 731 people killed. Of those killed, 70% were Israeli Arabs — more than three times their percentage in general Israeli society (21%). 

According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Arabs comprise just over 20% of Israel’s population. "Nearly all Arab towns and cities have lower standards of living than those that are predominantly Jewish. This separation and socioeconomic disparity fuel intense debate," CFR said in a report in March. 

At the request of 40 Knesset members, Israel’s parliament convened on Monday for a special discussion on the issue of the increasing number of murders within the Arab society. Since 40 parliamentarians have signed on to the request to hold the discussion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Yair Lapid were both ordered to attend it and participate in the debate. 

Addressing the Knesset plenum, Netanyahu said, "I heard here the true cries of Knesset member [Aida Tuma] Sleiman and other Arab parliamentarians. I've also heard that things have changed over the years. With the governments I’ve headed, I had worked to establish nine police stations — in Arara, Kfar Qasim, Jessar, Tamra, Kfar Kana in the western Galilee, Tira and other locations. It did not tip the balance. The problem you describe is indeed real." He then invited the Arab Knesset members for a meeting with him to discuss the issue. "We will need to act simultaneously on several fronts. I will need your cooperation, and I look forward to the meeting," noted the prime minister.

The invitation by Netanyahu for a meeting with Israeli-Arab representatives is unusual, as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir is the person responsible for this domain. Still, leaders of Israeli-Arab security have expressed on several occasions their criticism over what they consider a lack of Ben-Gvir’s commitment to fighting crime in Arab society

While the Knesset debated the issue, Israeli-Arab politicians and activists gathered in a protest tent set up at the government quarter in Jerusalem. The protest was organized by the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, with the support of the National Committee of the Heads of the Arab Authorities. 

The organizers announced the protests under the slogans "We want to live" and "We blame the government for the terrible increase in violence in Arab society."

Chair of the High Follow-up Committee Muhammad Brakha was quoted in the announcement as saying, "We are determined to make our cry heard. Last week, we organized a protest convoy that paralyzed transportation on Israel’s main routes. This week, we are setting up the protest tent. We will start assembling weekly protests, and within a month we will organize a national mass rally. We will not enable this government one moment of quiet and will keep demanding that crime organizations are dealt with. These would not have prospered, had it not been for the state ignoring and accepting this, and even cooperating with them at times. "

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