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The reaction by both the public and the establishment to the murder of 46-year-old Tufik Assad Agbaria and his two sons, Mahmoud, 20, and Ahmed, 15, by an unknown assailant armed with a gun raises a number of difficult questions. Their killer broke into their house in Umm al-Fahm in the dead of night. A murder of this nature in a Jewish city in the center of the country would have caused enormous shock and a powerful media response, complete with calls to apprehend the killer as quickly as possible and bring him to justice.

Tens of thousands of Umm al-Fahm residents turned out last week to protest, charging that the authorities have turned a blind eye and abandoned them to violence. They claim the police are not doing enough to prevent criminal violence in Arab communities.

The police say crimes are investigated in Arab communities exactly as they are everywhere else. But a comparison of crime investigation statistics for the Jewish and Arab populations clearly shows that the police have a vastly more difficult time identifying and prosecuting suspects in crimes that target the latter.

The police blame the Arab community itself for this, claiming that the Arab population does not cooperate with criminal investigators. The distrust that exists between the police and Israel's Arab citizens (which is understandable in light of the not inconsiderable incidence of police violence, which reached a peak in October 2000 ), does indeed make it more difficult to carry out investigations. But in cases where the police suspect crimes were committed out of nationalist motives, they know how to act aggressively even when faced with opposition.

Both residents of Arab communities and the authorities are aware that large quantities of weapons have been amassed in these communities by dangerous criminals, some of whom are affiliated with organized crime groups. Yet no effort has been made to confiscate these arms. In contrast, in cases where national security is involved, police generally manage to find the weapons quickly.

The growing number of murders and other acts of violence in their communities has become a leading concern for Israeli Arabs in recent years. It is even more worrying to them than the government's continuing neglect of education, infrastructure, culture and social welfare.

Violent crime disrupts their lives and threatens their well-being. They, like all the country's citizens, are entitled not to have their security neglected.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: ערבים מופקרים לאלימות