Netanyahu Set to Meet With Local Arab Leaders to Discuss Rising Violence

Some of the mayors are demanding that a plan to fight organized crime in Arab society be presented for government approval within a month

Jack Khoury
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Netanyahu on a rare visit to Nazareth, January 13, 2021.
Netanyahu on a rare visit to Nazareth, January 13, 2021. Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Jack Khoury

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to meet with representatives of the Council of Arab Mayors on Sunday evening to discuss the rising tide of violence in their communities for the second time in one week.

Unlike the previous meeting, this one will be held in person at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem and not through Zoom.

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On Saturday, the Arab mayors met to discuss their concerns, concluding that immediate steps to fight organized crime and promote and fund various anti-violence programs must be introduced. According to sources on the council, some of the demands also involve support for municipalities, but most of the emphasis is on practical plans that will lead to a greater sense of personal security in Arab communities.

The meeting with Netanyahu was finalized on Wednesday, while anger and frustration on the part of the mayors is said to have grown after a resident of Umm al-Fahm was shot to death on Friday.

Police forces in mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod after a double murder, December 2020. Credit: Hadas Prosh

According to the investigation of the incident, Mohammed Nasr Agbaria, 22, was shot on his way back from a prayer service protesting crime in Arab society and the way the state has handled it. Residents said that Agbaria is the fourth member of his family to die violently over the past 18 months.

Some of the Arab mayors, including Mayor Samir Mahameed of Umm al-Fahm, are demanding that a plan for fighting organized crime be presented for government approval within a month, and are threatening to resign if this does not happen. In a meeting on Saturday of the council’s secretariat, opinions were divided over the proposed resignation.

The Jewish-Arab NGO the Abraham Initiatives called Saturday for the Shin Bet security service to be tasked with rooting out organized crimes in the Arab communities, if the Arab leadership agreed to it. “In the past the possibility was considered in Israel of the Shin Bet assisting the fight against organized crime by using the technological intelligence means at its disposal,” the NGO said. “In light of the deteriorating situation, the Abraham Initiatives calls for making use of these capabilities the Shin Bet has, in coordination with and backed by the Arab leadership, by means of special agreements limited in time, so uproot crime in the Arab communities now,” the NGO said.

The Council of Arab Mayors said that the proposal has not been discussed, and many are against it. “If the Shin Bet wants to interfere, it won’t wait for anybody, and it’s not our role to coordinate such a thing," the mayor of an Arab city told Haaretz.

Dozens of people took to the streets Friday in Umm al-Fahm in protest of the shooting, sparking clashes with a large police contingent. The protesters marched from the main square at the entrance to the city and held prayers on the main highway, road 65, blocking the road for a short time. The police said that protesters threw stones and bottles at officers who used force to disperse the crowd. Four protesters were arrested.

Lawmaker Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), who lives in Umm al-Fahm, criticized the police, asking “Why do they disappear when we need them to collect weapons and smash the crime organizations, but then appear en masse to disperse demonstrations?”

The protest against violence began in Umm al-Fahm about two weeks ago, after the city’s former deputy mayor, Suleiman Agbaria, was shot and seriously wounded by unknown assailants on the second week of protests after Friday prayers.

Last year there were 95 murders in Israeli Arab communities, the highest number in 20 years.