Only Together Can We, Arab Women, Defeat the Crime and Violence That Are Killing Us

Maisam Jaljuli
Watfa Jabaly
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Muslim women in Arab-Israeli town of Umm el-Fahm, February 2021.
Muslim women in Arab-Israeli town of Umm el-Fahm, February 2021. Credit: Ariel Schalit,AP
Maisam Jaljuli
Watfa Jabaly

Last August, at the height of the heat and the coronavirus, Mona Halil, whose only son had been shot to death, decided to embark on a march from her home in Haifa to the official residence in Jerusalem of President Reuven Rivlin. She was joined by dozens of other bereaved mothers and their relatives.

They sought to make heard the voices of the Arab mothers, sisters and widows whose worlds had been destroyed in an instant. They’d lost what was most precious to them, and the murderers remain free to intimidate and frighten others. They had one demand of the president: Pressure the police to find the murderers of their loved ones.

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The writers of these lines were part of the march from its first day. One of us is a bereaved mother who two years ago lost her son Sa’ad, who was murdered while working in the family grocery in Taibeh, and the second is a longtime activist in the struggle against violence against women. We walked together for six days in the August heat; our legs swelled up and the blisters on our feet were painful.

After the march ended, we continued to feel the pain of the new families entering the “family of bereavement,” we continued to protest and convey the cry of the families. (In 2020, 113 men and women were murdered). Slowly we realized that the power is in our hands, that we, the “interested parties,” could have more influence than anyone else.

We decided to establish a forum called Mothers for Life, an umbrella organization for the bereaved families that would make our voice heard everywhere – in homes, schools, the street and the Knesset, among the country’s decision makers. We are demanding that all the crimes be solved and the collection of the tens of thousands of illegal weapons that, according to a State Comptroller’s Report, originate in the army, and the establishment of a state inquiry commission to examine police functioning in fighting crime.

Not only are the police exhibiting total helplessness, they are suspected of collaborating with crime organizations in our communities. The police excel primarily at having quick trigger fingers, and they kill innocent citizens. Only last week we got another reminder, when policemen killed Ahmad Hijazi, a student who got caught in the crossfire between police and criminals in a crowded neighborhood.

We know there’s no chance the government will respond to our demands without public pressure, nor are we being taken in by the campaign promises of the prime minister, who suddenly remembered that crime must be fought. We know that if he is reelected, all those plans will be trashed. But we also know that we can’t do it alone, and that the struggle for life is not just that of the Arab population and its leaders, but also that of the Jewish population and its leaders.

Anyone who thinks that the crime won’t spread to Jewish towns is living in an illusion, and anyone who thinks they can live a normal life when their Arab neighbors are living in constant fear and can’t sleep at night because of the gunshots and explosions is mistaken. Anyone who thinks that violence and crime are a “cultural issue,” and not the result of an institutional policy of discrimination since the state was founded, is living in denial, and one who persuades themself that the state and the police are doing the best they can – and that we aren’t cooperating with those efforts – is lying to themself.

We, as a society, have also failed. We failed by not standing up to the crime organizations before they became uncontrollable monsters. We failed when we allowed the “sulha” people to intervene, which let criminals escape justice and police evade responsibility. We failed because to this day we have been too quiet, we simply locked our doors and withdrew into our pain.

But no more. We promise to break the silence and battle together for life. Only together can we defeat crime and violence.

Watfa Jabaly is a bereaved mother. Maisam Jaljuli is head of Na’amat in the southern Triangle, and a member of the Teams of Crisis Experts addressing the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

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