More than ten thousand people marched to protest against rising crime and violence in the Arab community in Israel on Saturday afternoon in Tamra, in the Galilee.
The city, home to around 35,000 people, was the setting of a police shootout with criminals on February 1, in which two innocent bystanders were shot. Ahmad Hijazi, a 20-year-old nursing student, later died of his wounds.
Protesters also denounced police incompetence to tackle crime in the Arab community. This is the latest in a string of protests that has brought together people from Tamra and neighboring towns since the incident, with the prominent presence of young people.
Highway 70, a dual carriageway and the major artery connecting Tamra, was closed to traffic, as the march made its way through the town and past Hijazi's home.
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"Violence is the dominant discourse today among young people," said Mudar Younis, chairman of the National Committee of the Heads of the Arab Local Authorities in Israel, and the mayor of Arara. "Unfortunately it is not something that comes out of nowhere, it comes as a result of continuing lack of enforcement by the government and law enforcement agencies."
"As elected officials, we met with Netanyahu, he made promises, but in the end he just appointed a kind of military governor," added Younis, emphasizing that "the presence of the masses today is necessary; we have to take to the streets to put pressure on the government."
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented an updated plan to eradicate crime in the Arab community to a group of Arab officials. At the same time, he announced the appointment of Maj. Gen. Aharon Franco, former police commander of the Jerusalem District, as the officer charged with overseeing the effort.
The plan, based on recommendations made in November by professionals from within the executive, is estimated to cost 5 billion shekels (about $1.5 billion). But more than two months later, the plan remains unapproved.
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Mohammad Barakeh, a former lawmaker for the far-left, predominantly Arab Hadash party, called efforts by the Netanyahu government "misleading."
"If there needs to be a popular uprising to preserve our security, then we will have it – an intifada," he added.
Meanwhile, some in the local community expressed their impatience with the lack of progress, saying they perhaps should not look to the government for solutions.
"Everyone knows who uses guns and who is involved with crime," said Amar Hijazi, brother of the late Ahmad. "We will not wait for the police, we will lead a process to rehabilitate those young people ourselves."
As the sun set, the protest thinned out. Around 5:30 P.M., there were only a few hundred young people left, blocking the highway at the main exit towards Tamra. Organizers of the rally, including members of the Hijazi family, called on them to leave, urging them not to cause any damage.