Mona Khalil, a mother of six from the Haifa neighborhood of Halisa, didn’t plan on becoming a prominent figure in Arab society. But then her son Khalil Khalil, 26, was murdered on June 11. The perpetrator has yet to be caught, and Mona fears that her son’s case will join the many other unsolved murders of Israeli Arabs.
“I decided to do something,” she told Haaretz. “To set out on a march from Haifa to Jerusalem and to bring the cry of my son to the place where policy is decided and decisions are made.”
On Tuesday, Umm Khalil, as she is known, set out with her friends on a route that took them through several Arab communities. They included Jazya Jabali, whose son Sa’ad was murdered in Taibeh; Fardous Habiballah, who lost her only daughter Aroub, 16, when she was killed in a hit-and-run incident, and Kifah Aghbaria, whose brother Khaled was murdered in Umm al-Fahm.
They walked from Haifa to the Megiddo junction, then through central Israel’s Wadi Ara region to the city of Taibeh, from where they continued to the Latrun junction to the town of Abu Ghosh, west of Jerusalem. On Saturday night, they blocked the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. The group arrived Sunday noontime in Jerusalem, where they met with President Reuven Rivlin and police officials.
“The state must make sure its citizens see the police as protecting their homes,” the president said. “Arab society is not alone in this struggle,” he stressed. “It belongs to us all, and it is our collective responsibility.”
Rivlin called on all Israelis to “join hands and fight the plague of crime and illegal weapons on all fronts.” He added, “There are no citizens who are more equal or less equal in the State of Israel, which has an obligation to protect every citizen equally, and everyone has a right to live in security.”
One of the women who joined Halil was Watfa Jabali, whose son, Sa’ad, was shot to death in the family’s grocery store in 2018.
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“It hurts me that I met Umm Khalil under these circumstances,” she said. “My son was murdered right before my eyes. We warned before the murder that someone was out to get him, yet we received no response. Now the shooter is in custody and waiting for his trial, but what does that help me? Will it bring back my son?”
The mothers drew the attention of passersby throughout the march. In Tira, which has known quite a few violent incidents, women came out in a show of solidarity with the marchers. One of them was Asmahan Jabali. “What happened to these women hurts me. I am a mother of three and I don’t want to be in their situation,” she said. “There’s no doubt that the situation in the Arab community is getting worse. Someone has to wake up.”
“I wasn’t looking for masses,” Halil said. “I got a lot of phone calls from mothers and sisters of victims who told me clearly they were afraid to march. They told me ‘be our voice to the authorities, we must not accept a situation where murder is the norm in Arab society.’”
The chairman of the Committee of Arab Local Authorities,” Mudar Younis, commented that he “unfortunately” didn’t know about the march. “I don’t know if it’s because of the coronavirus or because of the difficult situtation and the lack of faith within Arab society.”
The chairman of the largely Arab Joint List party, Knesset member Ayman Odeh did not rule out larger protests, like the ones that took place last year. Odeh recently submitted an amendment to the penal code that would harshen penalties for weapons-related offenses, but it is still unclear whether it will win the support of the coalition and the cabinet.
Figures show that violence in Arab communities has cost the lives of 51 people so far in 2020. In 2019, according to the organization Abraham Initiatives, 89 Israeli Arabs were murdered, among whom 10 were women. Around 22 percent of Arabs surveyed reported that they or a family member had been the victim of violence over the previous year, either gun-related or by physical force.