Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that the government would not tolerate the rising crime rate in the city of Load, declaring "I will not let Lod turn into the Wild West.
Netanyahu, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich were holding an emergency meeting in the city where two people were shot dead in the last week. Both of the victims, a man and a woman, were Arabs who were shot to death on the street.
"We must take every action possible" to stop the crime, Netanyahu said. "We must prioritize development of this city, to put it within reach of young people and tourists.
Aharonovitch and the police's top brass met on Wednesday and decided to wage all-out war on the rising incidence of violent crime in Lod. The Interior Ministry-appointed mayor of Lod, Ilan Harari, invited dozens of leaders of Lod's Arab community to a meeting that day to discuss the problem. Only a few showed up, however, most of whom wield little influence.
Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, who was invited but did not come to Harari's meeting, charged, "Today, after 25 years in which weapons were rife in our streets, they demand that we come and help them ... They know where the guns are, but they don't want to round them up.
The guns will be rounded up only after a Jew gets murdered here."
High-profile visits by senior officials, he added, are only meant to take the edge off of people's anger.
While the meeting in Harari's office was underway, a group of sheikhs and a grassroots committee representing the city's Arab community were having their own meeting. They resolved to ask the state comptroller and the attorney general to launch an investigation into why disproportionately few murders in the Arab community are solved.
"Security companies and city inspectors conduct patrols in Lod, but only in the Jewish neighborhoods," Albaz said. "We asked them to patrol neighborhoods with an Arab majority, but it doesn't happen.
We want our community to turn to us if they have a problem, and we'll deal with it, since the police aren't doing anything."
Lod's Arab residents are incensed that the police blame the city's murders on clan warfare or so-called honor killings.
"When the woman was murdered, a mourners' tent was put up," Albaz said. "Anybody who understands our customs knows that we don't put up a mourners' tent when there's an honor killing in the family, but they use this as an excuse not to investigate seriously.
Now they have checkpoints throughout the town, so we're doubly punished - by the criminals and by the insufferable traffic jams. We will not cooperate with the police."
Police said there are currently a few hundred illegal firearms in Lod, and that families involved in Lod's drug trade are also trafficking in firearms and explosives. A bomb can be had for NIS 300, a grenade for NIS 800, and a pistol for NIS 3,000, they said.
Recently, police have made a number of raids to round up illegal weapons, finding them in graves and inside mattresses, among other places.
About two months ago, a member of the Azbarga clan was gunned down as he was leaving a mosque in Lod, apparently as a result of clan warfare. The following day, his relatives had planned a revenge attack on the rival clan.
However, an intelligence tip led police to the man who brought the weapons to be used in the attack. He had eight pistols, five rifles and several grenades in his possession when he was arrested.
Clan warfare in Lod has its roots in the 1970s, when large clans moved to the city from the south seeking work in agriculture and other unskilled labor. In the mid-1990s, two large crime families from the Ramle area, the Karajas and the Jarushis, began to gain a foothold in the town, particularly in the drug trade. Rivalry between the two families soon led to bloodshed.
Police persuaded the Karajas to move away, and the Jarushis remained behind, growing richer. That aroused the envy of other residents, and the Karajas saw the discontent as an opportunity to renew their hold on the city. Coalitions formed and splintered, each with its own arsenal of weapons.
"Today the people in charge in Lod are 17- and 18-year-olds with their baseball caps," said Mohammed Abu Shriki, a former city councilman and chairman of the grassroots committee. "Parental authority in our community has been lost, and it's very difficult to control these young men."
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