Bennett Visits Crime-riddled South, Vows to Act Against 'Wild West Militias'

'A resident of Rahat is the same as a resident of Tel Aviv,' Bennett says while overlooking the Bedouin city from afar

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, and police chief Kobi Shabtai, on a tour of Israel's south, Monday.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, and police chief Kobi Shabtai, on a tour of Israel's south, Monday. Credit: Noam Rivkin Penton

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday promised to stifle violence in Arab communities across southern Israel as he toured the country's Negev region.

"I arrived at the Negev this morning to get to know the area and simply say that this government has moved from defense to offense. The state must give the same amount of personal security to every citizen of Israel," Bennett said while overlooking the Bedouin city of Rahat from afar. "A resident of Rahat and Be'er Sheva is the same as a resident of Tel Aviv."

"There are militias here that act like it's the wild west," the prime minister said, referring to the surge in violence in Israel's Arab communities, driven mainly by organized crime.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, and Interior Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev joined the prime minister on the tour. Earlier, Bennett held a meeting with leaders of local councils in the Be'er Sheva municipality, also in southern Israel.

Bennett's tour to the Negev drew furious responses from residents and leaders in the area. Rahat Mayor Faiz Abu Sahiban told Haaretz on Monday that he had personally reached out to Bennett in the past, inviting him to the inaugurations of the culture hall in the city, but got no response.

Abu Sahiban said “It's unfortunate" that Bennet comes to the area to "observe. It would have been better for the Prime Minister to tour Rahat, to hear the distress and housing and infrastructures problems, rather than treat us only as a security problem,” he added.

Al-Qasum local council head Salame al-Atrash was invited to the meeting however chose not to attend it. Al-Atrash claimed that the government’s entire conduct is a product of incitement against Bedouins. Al-Atrash also pointed fingers at lawmakers from the Islamist United Arab List party for the ongoing situation in Israel's south.

In an interview to A Shams Radio, al-Atrash said that he expects UAL lawmakers, as coalition members, to use their political power and prevent incitement.

In late November, some 1,200 police officers and combat troops took part in an operation to tackle crime in the Negev's Arab communities. However, police only arrested 12 people on drugs and weapons charges, in addition to confiscating a handful of weapons.

The operation included the use of helicopters, and the presence of Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev. The forces confiscated two improvised rifles, weapons parts, ammo clips and ammunition.

A police source stated that one of the objectives of the operation was to restore deterrence in the Negev and strengthen the residents’ sense of security.

Also in November, a brawl broke out at Be'er Sheva's Soroka Medical Center, in which four were injured and 19 were arrested. Videos of the brawl, which involved two families from the town of Rahat, show people throwing stones beside a police car, while the sound of gunfire erupts in the background.

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