Israeli Arabs Say Police Neglect Rising Violence in Their Communities

While most of the 37 murders committed in Israeli Arabs communities this year remain unsolved, the police deny allegations of neglect

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At the funeral of Jonathan Nuesray
At the funeral of Jonathan Nuesray

Multiple murders in the Israeli Arab community over the weekend managed to push even the opening of the new school year to the sidelines.

On Sunday, three suspects were arrested in connection with killing Jonathan Nuesray, 24, in the northern village of Reineh following a traffic altercation. The Nazareth Magistrate’s Court extended the detention of one of suspects, a 30-year-old man, for two days, and the detention of the other two, 27 and 21, by a week. The case is covered by a gag order.

Nuesray’s murder followed the deaths of Mahmoud Hajaj and his fiancée Rima Abu Gheit, who were shot in a car at the entrance to the town of Tira last weekend, and the murder of Radad Radad, 33, in the town of Jisr al-Zarqa: he was also shot, in an incident in which two others were wounded.

These deaths have lifted the number of homicides in the Arab community this year, so far, to 37. Most of the murders remain unsolved, though at least some have been attributed to “soldiers” working for crime organizations.

Following Nuesray’s murder, Reineh declared two days of mourning and school was cancelled on Sunday. Thousands attended his funeral that day, including people from nearby towns who had never met him.

“I haven’t been able to sleep since the incident,” said a woman from Haifa who attended the funeral. “I have a son Jonathan’s age. I think about the mother of this young man and just cry, a woman who waited 14 years to bring a child into the world and in an instant, everything was cruelly cut short. I just think about it and my whole body shakes.”

Dua Tatour, who lives in Reineh, which is near Nazareth, said the murder left the entire village in shock. The last murder in Reineh occurred in the 1970s, she said, and Nuesray’s killing is a sign of how things have deteriorated. “If it can happen here, there is nowhere that can be said to be immune from violence," Tatour said.

Nuesray's murder cast a spotlight on the problem of violence in the Israeli Arab community in general.

The police say they are devoting a great deal of resources to obtaining intelligence on the power struggles between organized crime groups in the Arab community. But solving murders in the Arab community presents other difficulties, as highlighted by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira.

Eyewitnesses not rarely refuse to cooperate with the police. Sometimes the victims retract their complaints following reconciliation agreements, “sulhas” in Arabic, with their assailants. Owners of security cameras refuse to turn over footage to the police, and sometimes erase the tape before the police can take it, Shapira wrote.

But on the side of the enforcement, Shapira noted that police stations in Arab towns have fewer detectives than stations in Jewish communities with comparable caseloads.

Tira Mayor Mamun Abdel Hai for one rejects the contention the Arab public's reluctance to cooperate with the police is one reason that murders in the community remain unsolved: the police and government are failing in their duty to deter criminal elements, he says.

Jewish Israelis perceive murder in the Arab community as “an internal matter," Abdel Hai says. Jews think “the Arabs can stew in their own juices,” he said, but the second the faintest suspicion that the personal security of the Jewish public is threatened, the results are almost immediate."

Could things be different? “It’s clear to all that the police have the operational capabilities, tools and resources to find and break up criminal organization and to crack acts of murder," said Joint List Knesset member Neven Abu Rahmoun “But they don’t do it in the Arab community so there’s no confidence in the system, particularly because it is the spearhead of the establishment’s system of repression. That explains why part of the public does not cooperate. But even those who do cooperate, such as women who have filed complaints over threats and violence, are no longer alive.”

The police deny allegations of neglect, saying that murder rates have fallen sharply this year, including in the Arab community, where the incidence has fallen by about 30 percent compared with last year. Investigating acts of murder is carried out thoroughly and professionally by the police, which uncompromisingly aim to uncover the truth and to bring murderers to justice.," the police stated.