Israeli police presented figures last month showing a decline in the number of murders in the Arab community, which last year reached an unprecedented toll of 126. However, the string of murders that have taken place over the past two weeks in Arab communities has cast doubt on police claims that they have managed to bring down the number of murders.
In nine days, seven people were murdered in Arab communities, along with the suspected murder of Sapir Nahum by her ex-partner Wahl Halayla, and police volunteer Amichai Carmeli who was run over and killed by residents of the Bedouin town of Rahat.
Meanwhile, residents of Arab communities say that despite the data presented by the police, there has been no improvement in their sense of personal safety. “There is a feeling that the police saw the figures declining and downshifted; this must not be allowed to happen,” attorney Saeed Haj Yahia, director of the information and data department at the Aman Center – the Arab Center for Safe Society, said.
Police suspect a falling out among criminals was behind six of the nine recent murders. Such individuals are not always defined as belonging to major “criminal organizations,” but rather to smaller, local gang-like organizations that operate within Arab communities. For example, the murder of Mahmoud Sanallah in Be’ana, that of Taufik Ara in Jatt and Nader Maklada in Baka al-Garbiyeh, were the continuation of blood feuds between local crime organizations known to the police.
As for the murder of Munir Rian in Shoham, police are investigating two possibilities – that the murder was committed in the context of a robbery in Kafr Qasem of money belonging to the Abu Katifan family from Lod, or that it was the result of a family feud. Ahmed Abu Sheikha, who was murdered in Arara, does not have a police record. As for the murder of Johara Khnefess of Shfaram by a car bomb, the police suspect a connection to a conflict between the Abu Latif crime family and a relative of the murdered woman.
“Such a number of murders in such a short time brings us back to last year, which was a record for murders,” conceded a senior police officer. The number of murders in Arab society this year stands at 38, and this is a significant decline relative to last year, when the figure was 46. Until the recent series of murders, January, February and March were the bloodiest months this year, with seven murders in Arab communities each month, compared to September last year, when 16 people were murdered.
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The police had credited their anti-crime operation in Arab communities, led by Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz, for the seeming decline in the number of murder cases. So far, the police have filed more than 250 indictments against crime figures, many of whom have been held in custody until the end of legal proceedings against them. This has also led to a decline in shooting incidents, as have the arrests of the heads of the Hariri and Jarushi crime families. “Despite the slowdown, the number of shooting incidents and crimes in Arab society is still very high,” a senior police official said. “In general, this is a very long process that requires an extended effort for years. There’s no quick fix.”
The police say the spate in crime was in part the result of having to divert much of the force’s manpower from the central and northern districts to the Jerusalem district, following tensions in the city during the month of Ramadan and the Flag March.
“The organizational attention was devoted mostly to national events such as Ramadan, the Flag March and the Pride parade, so in practice there were fewer police personnel in the field,” says a senior police source. “We didn’t take our foot off the pedal, but we found ourselves having to deal with terrorism and public order events. When we say we have a manpower shortage, it’s not a slogan. There is a real need to beef up the ranks.”
The police estimate that the number of murders will soon revert to the lower level of previous months following the return of personnel to their districts, but this does not allay the concerns of Arab residents.
In Arab social media there is a sense of despair. “We thought the decline would continue and that it was real, but apparently the police are content with the numbers they achieved for a while, and maybe they feel euphoria and satisfaction,” says Mahmoud Shaqra, a social activist from Jaffa. “It seems that something has gone awry. Many questions should be asked. Where are the police? Recently there has been a murder almost every day.”
“We felt that there was a drop in the number of murders and shootings at the beginning of the year,” says Umm al-Fahm resident Amir Jabareen. “While I did expect a rise to occur at some point, I didn’t imagine it at this scale. Tensions on the street rise after every murder.”
In the past week four city residents were wounded by gunfire. “Crime is felt keenly in Umm al-Fahm,” Jabareen adds. “Maybe the police are just fed up.”
Abd al-Hakim Jabber, of the Taibeh reconciliation committee, says that the police’s helplessness has led in recent years to the formation of small gangs and criminal organizations. “All the rot in Arab society is because of the establishment and the police,” he says. “These little gangs and organizations have nowhere to turn to and no one to control them. That’s why every conflict between them turns into a blood feud.”
According to Haj-Yihya, the police were too quick to announce a drop in crime. “You need to give things at least a year to understand if there’s a drop or not,” he says.
Jabber says at least two years are required. “We need to create a giant police project, with all law enforcement agencies. Not gun confiscations here and there. We saw that they put some people in jail, but what about the rest? What about the family feuds? What about the land disputes?”
“Crime today is complex and involved, not like in the past,” says Haj Yihya. “The police must act in accordance with this complexity.”