After Seven Victims in a Week, Israel's Arab Community Fears Next Murder Is Inevitable

Failing to bolster forces, police argue that 'only a deeply rooted change will lead to change,' as one Galilee resident recounts 'a bad feeling in the air'

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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The crime scene near the Tel Dan nature reserve in the Galilee, northern Israel, November 1, 2020.
The crime scene near the Tel Dan nature reserve in the Galilee, northern Israel, November 1, 2020.Credit: Police Spokesperson's Unit
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

A triple murder on Sunday night in northern Israel raised the number of homicide victims in the Arab society to seven in less than a week, but police appears to have not taken any action to curb the rampant violence, and residents fear the next killing is imminent.

The bodies of the three – Hamed Majdi Hussein, 30, of Bu'eine; Suheir Hassan, 38, from Sajur; and 41-year-old Rami Yacoub Abu Zlam of Jadeidi-Makr – were found shot to death on Sunday morning near the Tel Dan nature reserve in the Galilee.

Haaretz podcast: If Biden wins, Trump transition could prove very significant for NetanyahuCredit: Haaretz

Residents of the three northern towns said they didn’t see any increased police presence on Sunday and expressed concern that the next killing was just a matter of time, but the police said they have considerably beefed up their presence in the Arab community.

An initial investigation into the killing of the three, who were known to the police, indicated that it involved a dispute among criminals. Residents of their hometowns were not forthcoming with information about them, but said that Abu Zlam had never been involved in criminal activity.

Attorney Wesam Arid, a lawyer from Jadeidi-Makr who knew Abu Zlam, said he was a “hunting enthusiast and would go out on hunting trips in the Upper Galilee and the south.” It was possible, Arid said, that Abu Zlam had been known to the police for that reason but said “anyone who knew him knows he is not a criminal.”

It was not clear what happened at the murder scene, Arid said, and raised the question as to whether the three were the target of the killings or whether other individuals who managed to escape had been targeted.

Residents of the Galilee town of Bu'eine, which has been the scene of a number of murders and other violent incidents in recent years, expressed concern about what was yet to come. “It's intolerable at this point. It’s as if everyone’s waiting for the next killing,” one resident told Haaretz.

Women protesting against femicide in Taibeh, central Israel, July 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“Go out onto the street and you’ll hear other stories about the bloody conflict that has been going on in the town for several years while the number of victims mounts,” he added, saying it was not clear what led to the killings on Saturday night, “but there’s a bad feeling in the air that it could continue.”

Last week four residents of Arab communities in Israel were killed – Aida Abu Hussein in Baka al-Garbiya; Juma’a al-Wahwah in Lod; Nawaf Ashkarani in Tira; and Adham Amun in Yarka.

On Sunday, following a situation assessment by acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen, the police took the unusual step of issuing a general statement about violence in Arab society. "Most of these incidents have been taking place against the backdrop of internal disputes that degenerated into violence,” the statement said.

The statement added that although the police have increased their presence in the Arab community, “it is clear to everyone that enforcement is not the only way to eradicate unacceptable social phenomena. Only a deeply rooted change from within Israeli Arab society, in cooperation with the police, while condemning inappropriate norms, along with active work on the part of the leadership will lead to the hoped for change.”

In a rare move, a sulha, or reconciliation committee that works in the Arab community to resolve disputes between various clans, announced on Saturday that it had failed to calm tensions in Kabul, one of the most volatile towns in the north, between two families in the town. The tensions followed a murder several weeks ago.

Haaretz reported on Sunday that only about 20 percent of the murders in the Arab community since the beginning of the year have been solved, compared to 53 percent among Israeli Jews. In response, the police said they thoroughly investigate every violent incident without regard to the background of those involved “and invest a great deal of effort and resources to get to the truth.”

A plan has been developed to address crime in the Arab community, but it is still awaiting approval and funding.

Lawmaker Mansour Abbas of the Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab parties, who chairs the Knesset’s special committee on crime in the Arab community, called on the police and other security agencies to declare a state of emergency.

“You don’t use routine methods to deal with crime that is not of a routine nature,” Mansour said. “A state of emergency should be declared and all of the necessary resources should be employed to eradicate this organized crime. It is unacceptable that in practice, the criminals have been given immunity.”

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