Israel Police Solved 71 Percent of Murders in Jewish Community, but Only 23 Percent for Arabs

The Israeli government budgeted over $310 million to fight crime in the Arab community, but national officials admit they’re failing

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Women demonstrating against violence in the Arab community in March.
Women demonstrating against violence in the Arab community in March. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The police have helped solve only 23 percent of the murders in the Arab Israeli community this year, compared with 71 percent for the Jewish community, with one senior police official saying Israel must improve young Arabs' access to the job market as a way of reducing murder rates in the community.

The number of murder cases because of disputes in the Arab community has also risen. All told, 64 Arab Israelis have been murdered so far this year – including 10 from East Jerusalem – compared with 51 last year.

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In the Jewish community, the number has fallen – 21 compared with 26. The police refuse to release numbers on solved cases, so Haaretz collects them independently.

According to the data, in the Arab community last year only one-third of the 97 murders of Arabs produced indictments, while in the Jewish community two-thirds of the 44 killings were solved.

This week the government budgeted over 1 billion shekels ($310 million) for a Public Security Ministry plan to fight crime in the Arab community. As part of the program, there will be more police stations in Arab towns and a special unit to prevent crime in the community.

Both the state prosecution and the police admit they’re having a hard time.

“We have to tell the truth: For now we’re not coping with the crime in the Arab community; we’re not accomplishing what we wanted to accomplish,” a senior prosecutor was quoted as saying in a closed meeting. “The law enforcement system is failing here and we have to act constantly to improve.”

The police attribute the increase to the Arab community’s less-than-stellar economy, including its high unemployment among young people.

“A person with no future who can’t find employment in what he studied goes out to make a living in the world of crime,” a senior police official said. “We have to encourage employment opportunities for young people in the Arab community; this is the main goal that the country must have.”

A protest against the authorities' reaction to violence in the Arab community, Nazareth, 2019.

‘Deep change in the Arab community’

For their part, the police said in a statement that this year they have solved many violent crimes in the Arab community and “will continue to bring all criminals involved in acts of murder and violence to justice. However, only deep change in the Arab community in Israel – in education, culture, cooperation with the police, condemnation of unacceptable norms and proactive leadership – can lead to the long-awaited change.”

For now, the Druze town of Yirka in the north is an example of the police’s problem. Six murders have occurred there since 2020, and only one has been solved – a woman who was beaten to death by her brother.

In general, a stabbing is easier to solve than a shooting because more evidence is left at the scene.

This week 30-year-old Sirhan Atallah was shot dead in Yirka during a fight caused by a local political dispute. The police arrested a number of suspects, but it’s not yet clear if indictments are likely.

“It worries me that murderers are wandering around free here; it should worry everyone,” Mayor Wahib Habish said. “We’re for the police conducting operations, but it doesn’t depend on us.”

Habish mentioned two problems: less of a police presence in Arab towns and a lack of cameras in the streets. “For two years I’ve been asking for city policing but they say there’s still no budget,” he said.

“I’m for a camera on every street corner in Yirka – I want a parents’ patrol and a night patrol here. I’m sorry it has become a culture of everybody doing what they want. We have to bring back order.”

Police and prosecution officials say one problem is a lack of cooperation between residents and local government. “We have to improve enforcement, but that’s not enough,” a senior state prosecutor reportedly told colleagues in a recent meeting.

“Only by bringing together all parties – schools, parole officers, municipalities, government ministries – can change occur.” Police officials add that in many cases, people who witness violent crime including murder refuse to testify; also, closed-circuit TV footage is erased and evidence disappears from murder scenes.

“I hear this claim from the police that there’s no cooperation, and I don’t believe that’s the reason,” Habish said, though he added that everyone must help in reestablishing a sense of security, “from education all the way to policing, enforcement and the police’s presence on the ground.”

Wahib Habish, the mayor of the Druze town of Yirka in the north.Credit: Gil Eliahu

‘There’s no police effort’

In Tira in central Israel only one of the eight murder cases since 2020 has been solved.

“You know there’s no work on older cases because we don’t hear about investigations or any officers returning to the scene. Even the people have forgotten cases from a year ago,” Tira Mayor Ma’amoun Abd al-Hayy said.

“We know very well that [cases] aren’t solved for two reasons. First, there’s no police effort into investigations and intelligence, and if there is it’s not very serious. Second, and this is where the truth has to be told, is the complexity of our society.”

He said “it’s not easy” for Arabs to testify against Arab suspects, “because you know you might pay a big price or be six feet under by the next day. That’s why we’ve been saying a thousand times that any government plan must include a witness protection program for the Arab community.

“It’s not like Tel Aviv here. We live in a society that provides support for family members even if they made the biggest mistake ever, and unfortunately this is often seen in the assaulting of witnesses.”

The police added that “violence in the Arab community is an unacceptable social problem that we are fighting with all means at our disposal.”

They added that a lack of cooperation by victims or witnesses creates a “national challenge in the prevention and solving of murder and violence cases in the Arab community, as well as an inherent paradox where greater efforts are invested in murder investigations in this community due to decreased cooperation, evidence tampering and more.”

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