Thousands of Israeli Arabs Protest Police Inaction on Uptick in Violent Crime

Mayors, Knesset members and religious leaders joined in massive protest in northern town of Majdal Krum, where three were killed in a brawl this week

Protests against police inaction in front of the court of justice, Upper Nazareth, October 3, 2019
Gil Eliahu

Schools and local authorities in Arab locales around Israel joined Thursday a general strike protesting what Israeli Arab leaders have called a lax police response to violent crime in the Arab community.

Thousands of protestors gathered in the northern Arab town of Majdal Krum, where two brothers were shot dead in during a brawl Tuesday and another young man, Mohammad Saba, died of wounds sustained in the incident on Thursday.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 70 Arab Israelis have been killed in the country. 

>> Read more: A police force of and for all citizens | Opinion ■ An Israeli problem | Haaretz Editorial

The demonstrators, which included thousands of citizens, mayors, members of Knesset and religious leaders from across the country, chanted slogans denouncing the police and its inaction in fighting crime, and calling Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan a "coward."

They carried signs reading "Violence - not on our streets" and "Living in peace is already a dream" as they passed the town's police station. Many women participated, wearing black shirts as a sign of mourning, as well as young people and children.

Two relatives of the brothers who were killed in the town, Khalil and Ahmad Mana'a, joined in the protest. "I came here with my children because, two days ago, they lost their father for no reason," Ahmad's wife Fatma told Haaretz.

"We've become a jungle in which anyone can be threatened." She called on mothers to watch over their children, and raise them with different values in a place where people are killed over "a parking spot or a thousand shekels." 

Muhammad Baraka, chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Israel, said at the end of the procession that "If there won't be quiet in Majdal Krum and other Arab towns, there won't be quiet anywhere."   

At the same time, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Israel and the committee of mayors of Arab towns said citizens from across the country joined a strike in schools and local councils, which comes amid a sharp increase in deaths of Arab citizens as a result of gun violence.

The Monitoring Committee called on demonstrators to keep the protests apolitical, but a number of young people waved Palestinian flags. According to an announcement released by the committee, a protest is also planned for Friday, on the main roads near Arab towns in Israel's north and center. They are also organizing a protest at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem in the coming days.

Calling the situation an "emergency," Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a Thursday statement the police should "fight violence just as they fight terrorism."

He said that he initiated a meeting with the head of the Supreme Court and the attorney general to establish a strict policy of prosecution and punishment for crimes related to illegal weapons and extorting protection money, which, Erdan said, "instigate significant violence which hurts the Arab community."  

"I expect the police to mobilize all their special units and significantly reinforce forces in the field in order to generate a deterrent and immediate response," the minister, heavily criticized in the past for his attitudes toward the Arab community, said. 

The Israel Police, too, has been blasted by Arabs for its poor performance.

Appealing across the aisle in the divided landscape of Israeli politics, Erdan called on "the Arab leadership and Knesset members to rise above our differences, and work together with the police to achieve the change required in the Arab community."

The decision to call the strike was made on Wednesday in a meeting of the Monitoring Committee held in Majdal Krum, after the two brothers were shot there Tuesday. The suspected shooter was stabbed and critically injured — he died of his wounds in Nahariya hospital on Thursday.

In the last month alone, 14 Israeli Arabs have been murdered. The murder rate among the country’s Arab population has increased by 20 percent in 2019, compared to the same period last year.

In the city of Nazareth, an epicenter of the protest movement, parents and students held local demonstrations in Mary’s Well Square and in front of the police station in the center of the city. “We want to live in safety and we want to live in peace," said some of the signs, while others called on the police to act against those behind the crimes.

Hazar Abed from the parents committee at the private Masar Alternative School in Nazareth, which organized some of the demonstrations, told Haaretz that parents had decided to take advantage of the strike day to deliver educational messages to the children and come out together to protest. “[We want to] send the message that we are against violence and against crime, and we want the police to do its duty: To protect citizens from violence and crime," Abed said. "That is why we decided to come to the entrance to the police station and demonstrate.”.

The popular committee for the fight against violence founded in Nazareth will hold a rally by the police station on Thursday afternoon. The committee was established in the wake of the murder of oud musician Tawfik Zahar in May.

Other local demonstrations were held in the city of Umm al-Fahm and the town of Nahf in the Galilee. The rallies were quiet and peaceful.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee includes representatives from all parties and political movements in Israel's Arab community, including Members of Knesset from the Joint List and the heads of local governments. Joint List members decided not to attend the formal 22nd Knesset inauguration on Thursday in solidarity with the movement.

Members of Knesset Ayman Odeh (R) and Heba Yazbak (in red) during a protest against police inaction in Upper Nazareth, October 3, 2019
Gil Eliahu