Five Dead After Violence in Israeli-Arab Community

Arab communities worry over lack of personal safety and trust that police will take action.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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The Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.
The Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.Credit: Reuters
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

A recent spate of violence in the Israeli-Arab community, in which five people were killed over the Passover holiday, has left Arabs warning that the question is no longer how to prevent the next violent incident, but rather where and when it will occur.

The number of incidents was the worst in years, and also included isolated shootings in some Upper Galilee and Negev communities.

The prevailing sense in Arab communities is a lack of personal safety, and a collapse of values and norms that for several generations helped stem the tide of violence.

On April 22, two young men were shot to death within hours of each other in Umm al-Fahm. Hussein Mahajne, 24, and Mohammed Aghbariyeh, 23, were shot in the city’s Al-Bier neighborhood, with both men shot at close range.

A few days later, on April 26, the focus moved to the Lower Galilee town of I’billin. A local conflict there ended in the double murder of Ibrahim Nabulsi, 35, and Mohammed Hasneen, 40. In order to prevent any further deterioration, the police sent in large reinforcements and a gag order was imposed on the incident.

No police officer showed up at either community to talk with locals or answer questions regarding the collection of weapons and the fight against crime. Instead, it was noted that the police were following instructions from higher up.

The police and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have tried to strengthen the police presence in Arab communities. However, many Arabs complain that the authorities haven’t recognized the fact that the key words are trust and public diplomacy – both of which are still sorely lacking.

“Violence in Arab society has spread in recent years for various reasons – including police inaction, with no collection of weapons or the conviction of criminals. Moreover, discriminatory government policies lead to unemployment, poverty, residential overcrowding and constant mental tension, as well as other intra-societal factors,” said attorney Ali Haider from I’billin, who studies Arab society.

“This violence can dismantle Arab society and cause its downfall from within. The government must act, in partnership with Arab leaders and experts, in order to formulate a strategic plan to eradicate this violence. This should include a program with a sufficient budget, a plan with clear objectives, as well as monitoring and regulatory mechanisms,” Haider told Haaretz.

Two days after the double murder in I’billin, tensions in the adjacent town of Kafr Manda reached new levels, against the backdrop of upcoming elections for the head of the local council. Previous council leader Taha Abdel Halim died recently and elections were called, to take place no later than 60 days after his death.

Tensions grew last week when the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by senior council member Ali Zaidan, who asked to be allowed to run for office. However, resignation from the council is required 90 days before the submission of one’s candidacy. The uncertainty led to the outbreak of widespread scuffles in the town on two occasions. In contrast to what happened in Umm al-Fahm and I’billin, no firearms were used, with locals using fireworks, firecrackers, sticks and stones. Several people were slightly injured and dozens of arrests were made.

There was another violent incident Monday, in Shfaram, northern Israel. The body of a woman in her 40s was found in her home, with the body showing signs of violence. The police are investigating.

Police sources said “the police in recent years have been working together with the Public Security Ministry in order to find solutions to the unique needs of Arab society, to reduce crime there and increase the population’s sense of security and trust in the police and the authorities. This includes strong enforcement of the law.

“The police are currently establishing a separate authority devoted to promoting policing in the Arab community and the improvement of accessibility to police services,” they added. “Minister Erdan has appointed Deputy Commissioner Jamal Hakrush, Israel’s first Muslim to hold this rank, to head this authority. Its objectives are to reinforce existing police stations and invest resources into collecting illegal weapons.”

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