Hundreds Protests Police Inaction to Growing Violence in the Arab Community

Police disperse protesters who blocked off roads, threw stones at officers in Umm al-Fahm as Arab community leaders demand police and government action in the face of ongoing violence and organized crime

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
Hundreds protest in Umm al-Fahm, January 15, 2021.
Hundreds protest in Umm al-Fahm, January 15, 2021.
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Hundreds protested in Israel's north on Friday against the spike in violence in the Arab community in recent months and called on the police to step up law enforcement.

Hundreds of demonstrators blocked the Wadi Ara highway leading to the entrance of the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. Among the protesters were local political activists, including a large turnout by the Islamic Movement.

Sheikh Raed Fathi delivered a sermon outside of the Umm al-Fahm municipality, blaming both a lax police response to the recurring acts of violence and those who participate in perpetuating it, including gun owners who view themselves as heroes.

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen spoke alongside Umm al-Fahm's mayor at the protest, saying that the protesters "will not be silent at a time when our community is bleeding, and another shooting happens every day, while police watch from the sidelines.

"We will continue our protest against the police and the government, who have abandoned their duty of safeguarding our personal safety," Jabareen said. "This is our basic right to life."

Police broke up the demonstration, in which they said participants began throwing stones at officers at the city entrance, and cleared the roads that protesters had blocked off.

The ire of city residents has grown in recent weeks, after Umm al-Fahm's former deputy mayor, Dr. Suleiman Agbaria of the Islamic Movement's northern branch, was shot last Thursday by assailants who are still at large. Agbaria was seriously wounded, and remains hospitalized.

Dozens also demonstrated against violence and police inaction near the Arab village of Tamra, where a string of shootings have taken place in recent weeks.

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech in Nazareth on Wednesday in which he pledged to fight crime in the Arab community, mayors of Arab-majority towns will be holding a discussion with the prime minister and demand a suitable plan to combat violence.

Last week, the chairman of the Committee of Arab Mayors in Israel, Mudar Yunis, and the chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities, Haim Bibas, sent a letter to Netanyahu demanding that he act immediately to eradicate crime in these communities. They requested legislation targeting illegal weapon ownership, mass operational activity against organized crime, and budgeting funds to improve personal safety in Arab towns.

"The prime minister is talking about many plans and steps that will be taken, but in the meantime, we are only hearing declarations," Yunis told Haaretz. "I hope on Sunday that we will understand if he has actual intentions, or if he is making declarations because of the elections."

Hundreds of demonstrators marched in Wadi Ara last Wednesday, following the funeral of Sliman Naziye Masarwa, 25, who was killed by gunfire in the city days earlier. Police dispersed the protesters with smoke grenades, tear gas and water cannons after the demonstrators blocked the highway intersection, and started to try to break up the crowd by force, to which dozens of protesters responded by throwing stones.

The funeral for Masarwa, who was the sixth member of the Arab community to be murdered since the new year began, was attended by thousands, including Knesset members and public representatives, as well as leaders of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee.

The chairman of the Joint List, lawmaker Ayman Odeh, said of the dispersal of the demonstrators: “They’re strong when confronting protesters and weak in confronting criminals. Instead of catching criminals and murderers, the police are busy suppressing protests, leaving Israel’s Arab citizens to die.”

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