Dozens of men and women stood outside Nadia Baransy’s home in Taibeh in the burning heat on Sunday. The women wept; the men stood with bowed heads, staring at the ground. Sometimes, a heartbroken cry emerged from the small courtyard where Baransy was sitting with her family one day earlier when she collapsed before their eyes, hit by a stray bullet.
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“I heard her laugh and call the children to come get something sweet from her, and suddenly she collapsed,” said Sana, a woman in her thirties. “We didn’t understand what had happened. Then they took her to the hospital, where they declared her dead.”
“It took us a few minutes to realize that this was a shooting,” added a relative, Ihsan Baransy. “She collapsed, and we thought it was a heart attack. Only once she was taken for medical treatment did it become clear there were signs of a shooting.
“Shootings and the use of weapons have become routine in this city, and throughout the Arab community,” he added. “People think this is a norm we have to accept, but it isn’t. We refuse.”
“This is real lawlessness,” agreed another relative, Khaled Baransy. “There’s no doubt we as a community bear some responsibility, but most of the guns are owned by criminal organizations and criminals, and we as civilians can’t deal with them.”
A few journalists were present, but the mourners were unimpressed. “However much you write, it won’t help,” one elderly woman muttered. “Will it give us back the sense of security we’ve lost? It won’t help at all.”
Nadia Baransy, 55, was a housewife with three children and several grandchildren. Neighbors described her as a modest woman and said the family wasn’t involved in any criminal activity – which bolsters the assumption that she was hit by a stray bullet.
“Stray bullet or not, this isn’t an explanation for such a tragic event,” said her brother, Sheikh Abd al-Muaz Abu Ras, who added that rising gun violence and the accompanying loss of personal security has become a major issue in the Arab community.
“I hear everyone talking about the police’s responsibility,” he said. “This already goes beyond the police. It’s a strategic decision by the Israeli government as to how much it really wants quiet in Arab towns. As long as it’s internal, we’ll stew in our own juices, but in the end, it will spill over and reach everyone.”
Baransy was the 37th Arab killed by gun violence this year. Most of the victims were killed deliberately, but deaths from stray bullets are by no means unusual.
Arab communities have recently started taking a harder line against firing guns at weddings, and there have even been calls to boycott people who do so. But there’s widespread agreement that weddings aren’t the main problem. The real problem is the plethora of guns in criminals’ hands.
“Baransy was a victim of the police’s weakness in truly dealing with the problem of guns in Arab society,” said attorney Reda Jabar, director of Aman – the Arab Center for a Safe Society. “She was also the victim of a weak society that hasn’t managed to root out primitive behaviors, the kind that take lives. This case and many daily cases of gun use are part of a broader problem of rising violence in Arab society.”
Police are continuing to investigate the shooting. They haven’t ruled out the family’s theory that Baransy was killed by a stray bullet, but said they are awaiting the autopsy report, which should shed more light on the incident.
Baransy’s death occurred just one day before the Public Security Ministry launched a special campaign to “strengthen ties between the police and the Arab community.” The campaign includes billboards in Arab towns with the slogan “100% personal security” and radio ads in which Maj. Gen. Jamal Hakrush, who heads a special police unit charged with improving policing in Arab towns, urges young Arabs to join the police. The campaign’s main goals are to encourage the opening of new police stations in Arab towns and recruit more Muslim Arab policemen.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan boasted on Sunday that the “revolution” in police service in Arab communities “is already in full swing,” with more Arab policemen and more police stations in Arab towns. He said the new campaign would lead to further improvement.
But Knesset members from the Arab parties’ Joint List assailed the campaign.
“Instead of waging a stubborn battle against Baransy’s murderers, police are opening a well-publicized campaign to ‘strengthen ties between the police and the Arab community,’” charged MK Haneen Zoabi. “The police force loses no opportunity to prove how little interest it has in lowering crime rates. It’s interested in nurturing ‘relations’ with ‘loyal representatives,’ because it sees its responsibility as controlling Arab society. It wants to control its subjects, not provide them with security.”
Zoabi said friendly relations between the police and the citizenry aren’t necessary. Rather she said, what’s needed is good service and respect for ordinary people’s rights in general, and a war on organized crime, including efforts to collect illegal weapons, in particular.
MK Yousef Jabareen agreed. “This campaign is a mockery and destined to fail, because the police force’s true face is known to the Arab community from up close, and 1,000 billboards won’t change its hostile image,” he said. “The police’s test will be in changing its policy of treating Arab citizens as enemies.”