Opinion |

Eliminating Violence in the Israeli Arab Community Is in Everyone’s Interest

איימן עודה
Ayman Odeh
A protest against police inaction in the Arab-Israeli community in Nazareth, October 3, 2019.
A protest against police inaction in the Arab-Israeli community in Nazareth, October 3, 2019.Credit: Gil Eliahu
איימן עודה
Ayman Odeh

Two weeks ago I visited Kafr Yasif in the north to console the Dirawi family after their son Adib was murdered. In the mourners’ tent, the father Naif angrily told us that the police had barely been in touch with him since he buried his son. Every victim is an entire world, but the sadness and anger are shared by thousands of families in the Arab community who have lost their dear ones – 1,386 people killed since 2000, 73 this year alone. We are in an emergency situation.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 43Credit: Haaretz

This situation isn’t inevitable, it’s a direct result of the government’s helplessness and the police’s criminal indifference. The solutions are on the table, and for years we have been demanding every possible platform: enforcement campaigns, stations for collecting guns, and education budgets that will stop the unbridled violence. The Joint List of Arab parties called an emergency conference in the Knesset; we had 65 MKs sign a demand that the prime minister implement a system-wide plan for a battle against crime. Our demands fell on deaf ears.

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Those in the government who seek to shirk responsibility for the personal security of the citizens resort to benighted arguments to transfer responsibility to the victims themselves. I’ve stopped counting the times I’ve been asked about the “culture of murder” in Arab society. A quick glance at the data for Palestinians in the territories is enough to understand how unfounded this claim is: The annual average number of murder victims in Jewish Israeli society is eight per million, similar to the West Bank’s nine per million. In the Gaza Strip the number is 11 per million.

Before the events of October 2000, when 13 Arab demonstrators were killed by the police, the average number of Arabs killed in Israel was identical to that in Jewish society. But since then the numbers have climbed, and today the annual average is 46 per million, almost six times the average in Jewish Israeli society and in Palestinian society in the occupied territories.

We must acknowledge the painful fact that had Adib Dirawi been named something like Aviv Dershowitz, the police wouldn’t have ignored his father and would have done everything possible to prevent a situation where within two decades 3,000 Jewish children would become orphans – as is the case in Arab society.

The Arabs who have been murdered are not only the victims of violent crime, they are victims of government racism. When our streets are bleeding and the government sees us as enemies instead of citizens, we have no choice but to change the rules of the game. Last week we stopped waiting for the government to provide us with the right to life and security; we took to the highways to take it by ourselves.

Tens of thousands of Arab citizens left their homes to force the government and police to recognize their demand to eliminate crime. They blocked highways, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who was in no rush to protect 20 percent of the country’s citizens from criminals, woke up and invited the Joint List’s leaders to a meeting. In the coming days we will meet and repeat our demands on behalf of the tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets.

The fight against crime will succeed in the end, but the road ahead is long and we must walk down it together. Our future in the country will be shaped by the battles we wage over it. In the last election many Jewish citizens spoke about an Arab-Jewish partnership. This is our opportunity to turn the words into deeds. I call on all Jews who believe in democracy to join us in a battle for a society without guns. Eliminating violence is in the civic interest of us all, and a shared struggle is the way to build a shared society.

MK Ayman Odeh is the chairman of the Joint List.

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