Gang Feud Marring Peace in Haifa Neighborhood

Gunfights, mass brawls, arson and grenade attacks have become common occurrences in Haifa's Halisa neighborhood in the past two years.

The police appear unable to cope with the violence, which is part of an ongoing feud between the two Bedouin crime families - Abu Kalib and Naima. Two people have been killed in the hostilities so far.

Some two weeks ago the neighborhood had a middle of the night exchange of fire. Nobody was injured, but serious damage was done to buildings and cars. Police arrested eight suspects, raided both families' homes and confiscated weapons.

Police suspect that the Naima family, two of whose sons were murdered in the last two years, will seek revenge. The he Abu Kalib family is suspected of tossing a grenade at its rival family's home every time it senses the Naima family is about to attack

"A Bedouin can wait a 100 years to take revenge," said a senior polices source. "The Naimas are waiting for the right moment."

The feuding families are related - Abu Kalib women are married to Naimas - and both families own businesses in the city. The Naimas have scrap metal lots downtown and at the Check Post junction. The Abu Kalibs own minimarkets, liquor stores and a gas station.

Most of the 3,200 residents of the Halisa neighborhood in east Haifa are Arabs and Bedouin, and the rest are new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. Unemployment is high, and abandoned houses have become drug dens.

More than two years ago the families clashed in a power struggle over gambling and protection rackets, according to the police. In August 2005 Nasser Naima was murdered in a drive-by shooting at his house; the Naimas suspect the Abu Kalibs, and gunfights and arson ensued.

In July 2006 Tamer Abu Kalib, 21, was kidnapped after a vehicle rammed into his car. Nur Naima, 31, cousin of the murdered Nasser Naima, was suspected in the kidnapping. He was in prison when his cousin was murdered. Omar Abu Kalib, the head of the family, called the Naimas and threatened to "burn them all down" unless his sister's son was released. His nephew was indeed released. But shortly afterward Nur Naima was shot dead outside a nightclub by a masked man.

The Naimas months ago offered a $100,000 reward to anyone providing information that would help solve the murders.

Police arrested suspects and raided the families' houses for arms. "The picture has cleared, we located potential suspects but did not achieve a charge sheet," says coastal district police commander Yoram Moyal. The Abu Kalibs' loyalty and commitment to their clan is making it difficult for the police to investigate the case.

The Abu Kalibs deny the suspicions. "The police are blowing things up and exaggerating their description of things. Every mountain they made turned out to be a molehill," says attorney Hamoudi Masri, who is associated with the Abu Kalib family.

Masri says the feud was not caused by underworld power struggles. "The feud has existed for years. Neither family even remembers what started it," he says.

The Naimas criticize the police's failure to close the case. "There are testimonies and evidence pointing directly at the suspects, and they're still walking around free," a Naima family member says.

Police believe more blood will be shed and fear that innocent civilians will be hurt.

Coastal district commander Roni Atiya said a new team has been set up to crack the murder cases and promises to supervise the investigation personally.

"I can't permit a situation in which passersby are caught in cross fire. The police are working on restoring order and safety," he says.

However, after two years of mayhem, Halisa residents seem to be growing accustomed to it. "Yes, it's scary, but it was rotten here to begin with. Unemployment, drugs, violence. So gunfire and grenades fit right in," one resident said.

"Halisa was once one of Haifa's best neighborhoods," says an older resident. "It was spoiled over the years. The police must clean it up."

The residents take pain to refrain from accusing one of the feuding families of the violence, and most of them refuse to talk.

"We won't wash Halisa's dirty laundry in public," says one woman, a member of the Agbaria family.