Israel Must Recognize a Simple Truth: Arab Lives Matter

Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab
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Arab Lives Matter, from Twitter
Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab

Who would believe that the hashtag #Arab_lives_matter would, in less than a day, turn into a virtual protest campaign, creating a tumult on social media networks and winning wide coverage in the Israeli media, both in Hebrew and Arabic?

Not for a minute did we expect that to happen and the moment it did, we understood that this was the time to remember that Arab lives are important. It’s not a social media trend but words that call everyone’s attention to the violence and crime in the Arab community that take the lives of Arab citizens every week.

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Imagine a life of constant fear where a stray bullet, or one fired deliberately, hits you right outside your home or at a wedding you are attending. There’s no need to imagine too hard, because that is what characterizes day-to-day life for Arabs in the State of Israel.

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev tweeted in response to the protest by calling out the “decades of neglect, disregard and fear of getting into the thick of the problems facing the Arab sector, and the prevailing assumption that ‘as long as they kill each other, then it’s their problem.’ In the first 100 days in my job, I did more than anyone has done in the last decades to contend with crime in the Arab community. Yes, Arab lives matter.”

The minister is right. Decades of neglect, disregard and the fear of looking Arab society in the eye and acknowledging the social complexities that got us to this point.

You can’t ignore the fact that Arabs have been turned into second-class citizens under a political leadership that promoted policies of neglect and failed to address the problems of crime and violence. Over the years, there were constant attempts to discount the importance of Arab society in the State of Israel and downgrade its status. The most prevalent view sees the Arab community as being in a state of perpetual crisis and helplessness, that the community alone can’t save itself.

But the responsibility for the lives of Arab citizens isn’t the task of Arab society alone – it’s the responsibility of the state and its government. Arabs are citizens like any others, and it’s the state that must ensure their personal security. Therefore, before raising the issue of eradicating crime and violence in Arab society, we need to address the eradication of the government’s policy of neglect and institutional racism towards the Arabs, which has become a fact of everyday life

The young generation, which struggles to find employment in the shadow of inequality and racism in the labor market, is at the highest risk of turning to violence and crime. It’s no surprise that the victims of murder are in their 20s and 30s. And still, the prevailing view sees the problem as a purely internal one of Arab society that Arabs alone must deal with.

What do we need – and not need – to do? The calls for stepped-up law enforcement and integrating the police with army undercover units or the Shin Bet security service aren’t the solution. To the contrary, it will only widen the gaps between the Arab and Jewish sectors and exacerbate Arab society’s lack of confidence in the state.

The time has come for inter-ministerial cooperation, led by the prime minister with Knesset supervision and informed by a broad vision that goes beyond the issue of eradicating crime and violence. This is in the interest of the entire Israeli public and even holds out the prospect of opening a dialogue with the Arab public.

Short-term solutions aren’t effective because the socioeconomic problems will continue to simmer under the surface and ensure continued crime and violence. We can’t stick our heads in the sand and insist that it’s only an Arab problem. It’s a problem for all of Israeli society, which must recognize a simple truth: Arab lives matter.

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