On Monday, gun violence claimed two more victims from Israel’s Arab community, Adham Bezia of Nazareth and Ahmad Hijazi of Tamra. Bezia was shot by gunmen near his home; Hijazi was shot, presumably by police, caught in the crossfire between officers and criminal suspects. The tragedies are related, and even fairly similar.
The police – which consistently ignore illegal gun possession and criminal organizations in Arab towns – behave like a crime organization when they fire within residential areas. This makes them partially responsible for the deaths of Bezia and Hijazi.
Hijazi’s death was not the only recent fatality of an Arab citizen during police activity ostensibly aimed at “addressing violence.” In late December, two men from Lod were shot while driving on Route 6 with a police escort, assigned after they received threats. One was killed.
The Israel Police are killing Israel’s Arab community twice: with gunfire and, just as seriously, with their blatant disregard for Arab lives. They know how to curb crime when they really want to do so. The police have reduced organized crime, including shootings, in Jewish communities (such as the wars between crime organizations and shootings and slayings in Netanya). This is the same police force that solves 50 percent of murder cases in Jewish society and 20 percent in Arab society.
When they do take action against Arab crime organizations, they do so in a clumsy, amateurish and uncaring manner, with complete indifference to the death toll caused by their disregard for our lives. Dozens of people have died in the past decade as a result. In the Arab communities, it’s considered legitimate to draw a gun over any little thing.
Asked in an interview in the wake of Hijazi’s death whether it is normal practice to fire automatic weapons in the heart of a civilian population, Northern District Police Commander Shimon Lavi replied, “Certainly.” The police officer in the field is like the sheriff in the Wild West. He is the only law. There’s just his finger on the trigger. This is how the police are killing us. With violence, with indifference, with negligence.
A few statistics: Last year, 113 Israeli Arabs were murdered. Each one had a name and a family and people who grieve them. Since the start of the new year, 16 have been murdered. According to data compiled by Aman, the Arab Center for Safe Society, 1,521 Israeli Arabs have died in violent incidents since 2000, and the number rose each year. Dozens of families have lost loved ones to “policing activity,” the result of which is little better than the activity of the crime organizations.
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The Arab community does not intend to wait for the cabinet to pass anti-crime resolutions. A popular movement is taking shape that expresses the seething anger in the community and seeks to translate it into political demands and a plan that treats the Arab community and human life with respect. The government proposal to reduce crime is absurd, and at our expense. It consists mainly of putting more police stations in Arab communities and recruiting Arabs to the force. Both measures have been proved ineffective in reducing crime, even exacerbating the problem, since its real goal was to increase affinity with the state and its institutions.
Rather than trying to implement a populist plan, the cabinet should give serious consideration to the plan submitted to it by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee. Drawn up by a team of Arab experts, it addresses all the aspects of collecting illegal weapons, crime prevention, education, policing, enforcement and solving crime. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana aren’t doing us a favor when they address the issue. It is our fundamental right. The state has a duty to its citizens to pass a gun-collection resolution and to dismantle the crime organizations. This is our immediate demand, and it seems that the only way to achieve it is through a tenacious popular struggle.
Heba Yazbak is a Knesset member for the Balad party, a component of the Joint List.