‘Like a War Zone’: Five Israeli Arabs Recount Living in Fear Without Police Protection

Five protesters tell Haaretz what made them decide to take to the streets

A protester against police inaction in Umm al-Fahm, October 3, 2019.
Amir Levy

They describe an intolerable reality, “like a war” amid rising violence in Israel’s Arab communities. They tell of their fear about going outside as a result of shootings, and of their moments of despair. But the wave of protests in the Arab community against what they say is the failure by the police to deal with the violence also represents a moment of hope from their standpoint.

Afif Yusef.
Amir Levy

Afif Yusef

“We hear gunshots in the middle of the night, mainly at night, even from nearby communities. From my standpoint, the murders and violence are exceptional and have crossed all lines. Human beings have no value. It doesn’t matter how they try to present it to the outside. Only people from within the communities can understand how serious the situation is.

“Maybe it’s convenient for people to label Arab society, but the fact is that we’re all protesting here – where these things are happening – in the hope that it will reach the people who need to hear it. We have to show that all of us have had it up to here with the situation. You can’t always throw the ball back to society as a whole. The establishment has to understand that we need its cooperation before something happens, not after. Arresting protesters won’t help. The police have to invest their energy in solving the cases of violence.

“According to [our] religion, it is absolutely forbidden to murder and there’s also a state and the law. Even if the state discounts us, we can’t give up on the possibility of resolving things peacefully, certainly if it saves human life. Even if the law has given up on us, we won’t give up on the law.”

Alaa Manaa

“I hope the people who murdered my brother are punished. The people who burned my heart and my mother’s heart, God will take revenge on them. These murderers should be put on trial in front of everyone. People should be afraid to do such things and take away a family’s loved ones.

“The police are doing nothing. No one here trusts them. When the thing you love most is harmed, you understand that you can’t trust anyone. The police aren’t working hard enough to find the killers and these dangerous people are free in the streets. We lift our heads to the heavens and curse the damned people who have killed. Our best boys are dying for nothing.”

Adham Suleiman Jabareen
Amir Levy

Adham Suleiman Jabareen

“I came out to protest to express the deep distress of the Arab community – in the hope that the establishment will listen to our legitimate demand to live in safety. I’m looking for ways to pressure the authorities to change this sad situation. The establishment treats us like citizens in Arab countries, not like in a democracy whose obligation it is to protect its citizens. The police want us to testify against someone else after something happens. They pin their success on the residents. “We can’t do the work of law [enforcement] authorities. That’s their job, and they have to work harder for citizens who are crying out for help.

“Arab society is in very deep trouble. It’s a civil war between families and the underworld, people who let them sow anarchy and no one can stop them. Every Arab village today is bleeding. I know people who have been murdered in the city. The pain gets worse and no words of comfort remain.

“My family and I hear gunshots every night. There was a time when the shootings were at weddings [as part of the celebration]. Nowadays I’m sure it means someone else has been killed. I’m afraid to go out in my yard.

“The police have got to collect the guns from people’s homes. We see how they treat the Jewish communities near us and we understand that we are the last priority, as if we’re not human beings. We don’t feel the [presence of] the police station here. They only care about enforcing traffic laws, while the real danger to human lives is right under their noses.”

Alia Jabareen.
Amir Levy

Alia Jabareen

“We don’t live in security and there’s no trust – so at least taking to the street makes us stronger. It’s important that we come together. That’s why I went to prior protests too. Politics and decisions that are made over our heads sometimes cost human lives. We are paying the price. It’s inconceivable that both the older and younger generation are exposed to violence time after time and nothing is being done to curb the phenomenon. All of us have the responsibility to cause the law to protect us and this protest is the way. I came here to show that despite the seriousness of the incidents, we still have hope. Getting up and doing something that will change society, which, when all is said and done wants to live in peace and security.”

Sami Mahajna
Amir Levy

Sami Mahajna

“We came out to protest to show the authorities that we feel we are being ignored, as if our lives don’t count enough. Arab culture is against murder. [Our] religion calls for acceptance of the other and prohibits violence. These people who take the lives of others know very well the extent of the tragedy, but for them this has become the norm and no one will stop them. Many of these incidents could have been stopped with a little more attention. Who do they think we are, people who don’t understand, who don’t see what’s happening? We live here like any other citizen in this country, and our demand to know that our children will come home when we send them off is absurd. This is distorted thinking that has no place in a democratic country.

“Nobody here is shirking responsibility. There are lawbreakers everywhere, but the guns in the homes are the result of inadequate action. Somebody has to see to it that these things don’t happen. We hear shooting in the middle of the day. People are being killed and we must not forget that a large number of people are being wounded. The police have to stand up and act. It’s like living in a war.”