Israeli Arab Lawmakers Meet With Minister as Dozens Protest Police Handling of Violent Crime

Hundreds of vehicles participate in convoys to protest near Prime Minister's Office ■ Two protesters arrested and later released; demonstrators complain of violent police conduct

Convoys heading for Jerusalem to protest police failure to handle violent crime in the Arab society, October 10, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Israeli Arabs' protests against the Israel Police's failure to curb spiraling violence in the Arab community reached a new peak Thursday when two convoys, composed of hundreds of vehicles, drove toward the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. 

The cars, which carried black flags, headed toward the Israeli capital from the north and south. Dozens protested near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office after the convoys arrived.

The leaders of the Joint List alliance of four Arab-majority parties, who accompanied the convoys, later attended a meeting with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the police. Erdan and the party leaders discussed rampant crime in the Arab community. 

Later Thursday, protesters said that they were attacked by policemen while en route to Jerusalem. Two of the protesters, Israeli Arabs from the city of Jaljuliya, were arrested at the entrance to Jerusalem. They were later released, but recounted that policemen were violent toward them while they detained them.

The convoys are the latest demonstration in a string of protests over the past two weeks in about 30 communities around the country.

Convoys heading for Jerusalem to protest police failure to handle violent crime in the Arab society, October 10, 2019.
Jack Khoury

"We are setting out to convey a clear message to the government, the Public Security Ministry and the Israel Police. This involves an entirely legitimate protest," the head of the Majdal Krum local council, Salim Salibi, said. "As council heads, we fully support this."

Watfa Jabali, a resident of the town of Taibeh, whose son Sa'ad was killed last year by an unknown gunman at the family's store, said on Thursday morning: "I am calling on every mother who has lost a son or brother to join the convoys. This is a genuine cry, a cry emanating from an open wound that will not heal. We, the families of the victims, must not remain apathetic or silent. If we go out and say 'enough' and 'no to violence,' it will only increase pressure on the decision makers."

Jabali said she didn't have high expectations of the responsible officials, "but that doesn't mean that we will be indifferent. I also used to say it could never happen to me. And it did happen. Maybe this initiative will prevent another murder in the future."

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said he and his colleagues would be meeting with Erdan and leaders of the police "backed by the just demands of tens of thousands of protesters."

Israel's Arab citizens demonstrating against uptick in gun violence, Umm al-Fahm, October 2019.
Amir Levy

Odeh added that "We are demanding that prison terms and heavy fines be enshrined in law for any citizen who has an illegal weapon and that crime gang leaders be put on trial. We shouldn't have to take drastic measures to get the government and police to start dealing with problems that claim the lives of thousands of citizens. This struggle is over the most basic right of every citizen: The right to life and security."

Joint List Knesset member Saeed Alkharumi said: "Residents of the south are highly responsive [to the protest] and that can't be taken for granted. It's true that the main issue of the Bedouin community in the south is the issue of land and construction, but the issue of personal security is also one that no one can ignore and therefore the cry is genuine."

"We are setting out from everywhere, from the north and the south and the center of the country to say 'enough,'" Alkharumi said.  

A Haaretz inquiry has revealed that the rate at which indictments have been filed in cases involving the murders of Jews in 2019 is double than those involving Israeli Arabs.

Indictments have been filed in 30 percent of the cases concerning murder of Arabs – 22 of 72 killings – compared with 58 percent of the murders of Jews – 21 of 36 cases.

Joint List leaders attend a demonstration in the Arab town of Majd al-Krum, northern Israel, October 3, 2019.
Gil Eliyahu

Police figures also show that the percentage of indictments in murder cases involving the killing of Arabs has been on the decline in 2019. While it was 30 percent this year, it stood at 40 percent in 2018 and at 38 percent the year before.

On Tuesday, the eve of Yom Kippur, a 36-year-old resident of Jaljulyah, Baha Arar, was shot to death while sitting in his car in his hometown. Three others were moderately injured in the shooting.

A Jaljulyah resident reported that Arar's family has been involved in a dispute with criminals and that he is the third member of his family who has been killed in recent years. His brother Abed was killed about two years ago by a car bomb on the Ayalon Freeway in the Tel Aviv area.

On Sunday, Netanyahu said that he condemns the violence in Arab society. "We all must act responsibly and cooperatively" to fight it, he said, adding that he had secured a commitment from the police and the Public Security Ministry on "the deployment of additional forces and stepped up enforcement."