Israeli Arab Activists Using Boycotts, Social Media to Stop Celebratory Gunfire at Weddings

Community figures and social activists say the amount of people firing guns to celebrate has declined significantly

The dissemination of videos of people firing guns into the air to celebrate weddings in the Bedouin communities of Tel Sheva and Segev Shalom has led to criticism of the practice, but community figures and social activists say it has declined significantly in the wake of intensive efforts.

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Two years ago, a residents’ committee in Tamra, in northern Israel, launched a campaign that involved speaking with merchants who sold fireworks for events as well as families planning weddings and asking them to do their part to stop the use of fireworks and guns. “It was pretty successful,” says Nidal Othman, a lawyer from Tamra and a member of the committee. “But when weapons are used to settle scores or to make threats, it’s hard to call it a success. The problem of discharging weapons at weddings is not a public concern as it once was, when it comes to guns we’re more preoccupied with the shootings happening every day.”

Public shooting of firearms on roads in the Negev in southern Israel

Sami al-Ali, a member of the Jisr al-Zarqa local council and a social activist, says that in recent years personal messages are disseminated on social networks ahead of the wedding season. “We’ve made it clear that in every wedding where weapons are used, we’ll call on the people involved to leave,” he says. “We’ll ostracize anyone at whose wedding guns were used. It’s worked very well — in Jisr people used to fire guns at every wedding and now it happens only occasionally, since everyone has taken responsibility.”

If firing guns to celebrate happy occasions — a tradition that predates Israeli independence — was once a status symbol for wealthy or powerful families, today it’s considered a symbol of thuggery. “This behavior model was prominent in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, more characteristic of Bedouin society in the south,” says sociologist Nihad Ali, an academic adviser at the Abraham Fund Initiatives and the head of Arab-Jewish affairs at the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. “Boycotting such weddings and criminalizing these acts have almost wiped out the phenomenon in northern and central [Israel], but it’s still present in the south.”

A resident of Segev Shalom who spoke on the condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of this issue, told Haaretz that wedding guests share the responsibility for eliminating the practice. “I would expect citizens to call the police as soon as they see something like that and not to condone it as if it were a preordained matter of fate,” he says, pointing a finger at the authorities as well. “People treat it as a cultural custom. As soon as it endangers Jews everyone is alarmed.”

Celebratory gunfire in Umm al-Fahm

Awad Abu Freikh, who lives in Rahat and teaches at Sapir College in southern Israel and at Al-Qasemi Academic College of Education in the north, the groom’s arrest after video clips showing masked men riding in a convoy of vehicles in the Negev and firing guns went viral could have a deterrent effect. “This is a dangerous and vexing problem and we object to it. When there are marginal people, the police have to deal with them, not the public. Rahat and Segev Shalom should be no different than Be’er Sheva,” Abu Freikh said. “As long as it’s within the [Bedouin] community, no one cares. When it leaks out the headlines shriek since then it’s close to Jewish communities. From this you can infer the way this is related to on a national level, including by the police.”

Area residents and social activists say the public uproar underscores the Bedouin community’s separation from the rest of Israeli society. They say that while the phenomenon is declining and facing condemnation there is a decrease in the sense of security felt by people, with a surge in the number of shootings and murders in the streets.

According to figures collected by the Aman Center for a Safe Society, 11 people have been murdered in Israel’s Arab communities this year. Last week, Fursan Jabareen and his uncle Shafiq Jabareen were shot to death in Umm al-Fahm, and over the weekend Nizar Jahshan, a Nazareth resident who was shot last month while sitting in a restaurant in that city, died of his injuries. His funeral turned into a protest against the authorities’ helplessness in the face of gun violence in Arab communities in Israel.

Wael Jahshan, a relative of Nizar Jahshan, says that while it’s important to arrest people for firing guns at weddings, it’s more important to eradicate crime and crime organizations. “The police can present figures and talk about resources invested, but with incidents like the murder of Nizar or what happened in Umm al-Fahm it all collapses.”