Why Is #ArabLivesMatter Trending and How Is It Different From Black Lives Matter?

The death toll from crime in Israel's Arab community has hit triple figures. How did the problem reach this boiling point and what has the government done to try and stymie crime?

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People gather in Tel Aviv to demonstrate against violence in Arab communities.
People gather in Tel Aviv to demonstrate against violence in Arab communities.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Israel just marked a grim milestone with the killing of 44-year-old Salim Hasarma from the northern village of Ba'ana, the 100th Arab Israeli citizen lost to community violence in 2021 alone. The number of deaths continues to climb.

Why is community violence such an issue?

Violence has been a problem in the Arab community for decades. Unlike in Jewish neighborhoods – for example, in Netanya, where Israeli authorities intervened to stop local crime – the police have been accused of turning a blind eye to Arab-on-Arab crime.

In addition to police apathy toward the Arab community, lawmakers have also been slow to act. Not only have the authorities failed to investigate killings and bring perpetrators to justice, they have also failed to stem the flow of illegal weapons.

However, the real driving factor behind this epidemic is the high unemployment rate among Israel's Arab community. With some 40 percent of Israel’s young Arab citizens jobless, the lack of opportunities pushes some into crime and gangs. Easy access to illegal weapons further compounds the situation.

What has the state done?

Only recently has the government started to seriously discuss steps to stem the violence. Israel’s cabinet has voted to expand police powers to fight crime, including giving police the right to search homes without a warrant. However, this broad expansion of powers would apply only in Arab communities, not Jewish communities.

There have been talks as well about involving Israel’s Shin Bet security service, which is chiefly used for intelligence and anti-terrorism purposes. Critics say both proposals would undermine the rights of Arab citizens, encourage further enforcement based on ethnic background and reinforce already existing prejudices that portray Arabs as a security risk.

How is the Black Lives Matter movement different from Arab Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter was founded in the aftermath of the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer. The movement aims to bring attention to and eradicate police brutality and systemic violence inflicted on Black communities.

Arab Lives Matter, while also aiming to bring attention to systemic racism, aims to raise public awareness of community violence not at the hands of the police, but due to police inaction.

While the movement says more policing will not solve the core problems, it calls for police action, including taking steps to strengthen relations between the Arab community and law enforcement.

What steps are community leaders and activists calling for in order to effectively reduce violence?

In order to effectively tackle the problem, community leaders and law enforcement must work together to build trust and mutual understanding. More thorough probes into killings that have already taken place, as well as tightening restrictions to make illegal weapons less accessible, would make it more difficult for gangs to thrive.

Ultimately, the biggest obstacle is the government’s attitude toward the Arab community as a whole. In addition to placing equal value on the safety of Israel’s Arab citizens, more investment in the community is necessary. The government must create equal opportunities for education and employment in the Arab community.

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