As Casualties Mount, Israel Drags Feet on Plan to Combat Violence in Arab Communities

Plan promised by Netanyahu still lacks a budget and no date has been given for its approval, as number of violent deaths in the Arab community this year nears 90

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A protest march led by mothers who have lost children to violence in the Arab community, Jerusalem, August 16, 2020.
A protest march led by mothers who have lost children to violence in the Arab community, Jerusalem, August 16, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

In an unusual move last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended a special session of the Knesset committee to fight violence in Arab society, which broadly addressed the government proposal to combat violence and concluded that the plan would be approved soon, perhaps within two weeks.

A month and a half later, the plan hasn’t been approved, nor is it clear when it will be; moreover, no budget has been allocated for it. Meanwhile, the number of victims of violence in Arab communities continues to rise. According to Haaretz figures, a murder in Zarzir in northern Israel on Saturday raised the number of violent deaths this year to 89.

In response to a query, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the plan is still being worked on. No date was given for its approval. Moreover, in a debate in the Knesset last week it emerged that no budget has been allocated to the plan. The chairman of the Knesset committee to fight Arab violence, lawmaker Mansour Abbas, said during the discussion, “There’s a plan, it’s a good plan, and if it’s carried out to the letter there’s no doubt it will achieve its goal. What’s missing, deputy finance minister? We’re lacking a budget.” According to Mansour, the program will cost an estimated 2.5 billion shekels ($768.3 million) over five years.

Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen said that financing the plan requires passing the state budget. “Pray that our leaders give us the green light to pass the budget,” Cohen said.

The chairman of the Committee of Arab Local Council Heads, Mudar Younes, told Haaretz that representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office said last week that there is no date set for approving the plan. He added that the outline they were presented with is not an operative plan but a general policy.

The Arab mayors have filed objections with the Prime Minister’s Office, demanding to set specific objectives regarding the struggle against violence in the Arab community in the work plans of all the ministry’s and municipal agencies, and not just suffice with general declarations of intent. The objections document also states that it isn’t enough to open police stations and recruit police officers, as the plan suggests now, but to put an emphasis on the quality of the officers and their training to work in the Arab community.

The Abraham Initiatives organization, which was involved in drawing up the plan, blames the prime minister for the delays. According to the group, Netanyahu’s promises “have not yet been translated into actions. There is no cabinet resolution and no budget has been allocated to the issue. We’re talking about intolerable foot-dragging while more and more Arab lives are being lost, with 2020 looking to be the most lethal year to date.”

A protest march calling for Israel to take action and prevent violence in Arab communities, Ramle, October 15, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel believes the plan will not be approved and plans to resume its protests despite the coronavirus restrictions. In a committee meeting in Nazareth it decided that on December 21 a protest convoy would travel from Wadi Ara to the Knesset and block Route 6 by driving very slowly. Committee Chairman Mohammad Barakeh said, “The crime situation is unbearable, so we need to return to the streets.” He said resuming the protest “would also be a message to the Knesset and the cabinet that the Arab public is sick of this foot-dragging.”

Fida Nara Tabony, the co-director of Mahapach-Taghir, a nonprofit that works for equal opportunities, said, “The policy of discrimination, racism and the prime minister’s deals won’t advance anything. There no need for plans that take years to think up. To eliminate crime you have to get up and act, as they did in 2003 in Jewish cities. You have to collect illegal weapons, put criminals in jail and undermine the businesses of criminal organizations. What the police do in every properly run country, or what they do in Jewish society.”