One thing is beyond dispute: Crime and violence in Israel’s Arab communities have reached a boiling point, becoming a full-blown state crisis. In the past year, over 100 Arab Israelis have been murdered, with the total projected to “easily” break the record, set only last year. The entire community lives in fear; hundreds of people have been injured physically and thousands more suffer from psychological trauma. For us it’s not a headline, it’s a paralyzing, impossible daily reality.
The roots of the horrific crime and violence that are destroying us lie in, among other things, the state’s neglect, discrimination and fiscal and developmental abandonment of one-fifth of the population over so many years. In most cases it seems the state knows only two ways to deal with its Arab citizens: Leave them to their fate and let chaos reign, or treat them as a security threat. One can hope that the new government genuinely seeks to solve the crisis, but the decision to use the Shin Bet security service to that end is a very worrisome sign.
For 18 years Israel’s Arab citizens lived under military rule, officially second-class citizens treated as potential enemies, a “fifth column” in every respect. Military rule ended 55 years ago, but in many ways the state’s approach has not changed. We suffer far more police violence and harsh enforcement than Jewish Israelis, our freedom of expression is conditional and every time we demonstrate it’s a “riot.” When settlers rampage through Palestinian villages in the West Bank, it’s a “clash.”
Somehow, when the police are genuinely asked to do their job and for once work for the Arab citizens, not against them, they suddenly lose their enthusiasm. Organized crime thrives in Arab communities because the state doesn’t care. The solved-murder rates in Arab communities is 23 percent, compared to the 71 percent of their Jewish counterparts. And you wonder why we’re skeptical about the Shin Bet fighting crime? More than the possibility of it succeeding, we fear the persecution of innocent citizens, surveillance without transparency, feeling even more like second-class citizens who need a special police force. Why not start with the police doing their job for once?
It’s clear that the immediate solution is a comprehensive program to restore security to Arab communities, to collect the illegal guns; arrest and jail all the murderers and wage all-out war on organized crime. But that alone won’t suffice. We are poverty-stricken. Young Arabs have no hope for the future, Arab schools are the worst in Israel and a decades-long planning crisis prevents Arab communities from flourishing as they could and should. We also demand fiscal equality in health care, education, social services and in zoning, planning and construction policy. We want prosperity and happiness to thrive, not organized crime.
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At the same time, we must not forget an equally important aspect of life in the Arab communities and its outburst in May: Israel’s Arab citizens won’t tolerate humiliation or the trampling of its collective identity. It is precisely the state’s recognition of Arab citizens’ feelings and national identity that will encourage their integration in and sense of belonging to Israeli society. All of these things – equality, respect, budgets – are of course connected. In the end, we want only one thing: To be treated as equal citizens and equal human beings. There is no greater security than to feel like a citizen with equal rights.
Fida Nara Tabony is the director of the Haifa office of Shatil, the executive arm of the New Israel Fund.