Violence Is Peaking in Israel's Arab Communities, and Criminals Aren't Afraid of the Police

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Israeli security forces stand guard outside the closed al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 8, 2020.
Israeli security forces stand guard outside the closed al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 8, 2020.Credit: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP

A shooting in the town of Tira on Saturday night, in which two policemen were seriously and lightly wounded, is a serious for the Israel police. A similar incident occurred last month in the Bedouin city of Rahat, where criminals shot at several policemen, lightly injuring them.

These incidents aren’t directly connected, but they are emblematic of the same phenomenon: an ongoing failure of the police in fighting organized crime in Arab communities, along with a loss of deterrence. Since the beginning of the year, there have been 26 murders in Arab communities, six of them in May alone.

Arab leaders say the police and the state are not doing enough, and that a comprehensive solution is needed in order to contend with the violence. The mayor of Tira, Mamoun Abd al-Hay, told Haaretz that “on the backdrop of the grave economic situation and the years of neglect, the absence of a horizon for young people here will cause them to turn to crime. An investment in educational and cultural projects is more important than any police presence.”

Given that, Abd al-Hay says the police should do more. “The boldness of these criminals is growing, and guns that were turned on us are now being turned on the police, just as we warned would happen. The successful operations of these criminals, along with the absence of policemen and their inability to chalk up some success, is only exacerbating the violence.”

A senior law enforcement official claimed on Saturday the those who opened fire knew they were shooting at police officers. “This is the most severe incident in recent years in handling crime in the Arab community, showing there are some criminals who aren’t afraid to deliberately open fire at officers. It is a shame that despite the severity [of these incidents] there haven’t been enough condemnations on behalf of Arab Knesset members and leaders of the community.” The incident was condemned by leading Arab Mks Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi on Saturday night.

So far, the monthly average number of murders is lower than it was in 2019, but the numbers are still very high. 2019 was a record year in terms of murders in Arab cities, with 91 cases. 2017 and 2018 were also considered difficult years, with more than 70 murders in each year. The hotspots this year are in the Negev, in Umm al-Fahm and in several northern communities. Last year, the focus was around the central cities of Lod and Ramla.

The police believe that the economic crisis created by the coronavirus will exacerbate violence in the coming months. Due to private business owners incurring debts, police believe that more people will seek loans in the gray market, which was the focus of several violent incidents last year.

Maj. Gen. Jamal Hakroush, the head of the Directorate for the Development of Policing Services for the Arab Population, predicted last month at a Knesset meeting that the economic crisis would increase activity in the gray market, especially in Arab communities. “We know that loans in the gray and black markets are a blight, they’re a serious affliction, especially in Arab society. Much of the shooting and violence is caused by this.” He says that the police and prosecutors find it hard to bring indictments in these cases.

Israeli Arabs protest against police inaction of violence in Arab communities in Umm al-Fahm, October 3, 2019.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

The police said that it established seven new stations in Arab towns in recent years. Hundreds of millions of shekels have been invested in augmenting police presence there. Police officials say that their operations aren’t enough, however, and that educational efforts and preventive action are required of mayors, imams, and the heads of communities and extended families.

Besides the incident in Rahat, in which police vehicles were damaged by gunfire, there was another incident in Jaljulia last week in which suspects were in the process of being arrested when dozens of people gathering around threw stones and rocks at the policemen, seriously damaging three vehicles. “For many people in certain areas, the police represent the authorities that are daring to impose order, so violence is directed at the policemen," said a police source. 

The police said in response: “The police investigate every murder thoroughly and professionally, investing much effort and many resources into bringing murderers to justice. However, only a radical change from within Arab society, expressed in education, culture, cooperation with the police and the condemnation of wrongful norms, as well as action by community leaders, will bring about the anticipated change.”

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