What happened Monday night in Tamra simply cannot be glossed over. Neither Ahmed Hijazi, the 22-year-old nursing student who was shot to death during a firefight between police and three criminals, nor the doctor who was with him and was mistakenly shot and wounded, must not be allowed to become dry statistics for those keeping track of “violence in Arab society.”
Most of the complaints regarding how police handle violence in Arab communities are that the police don’t have a field presence; that they have abandoned residents to the whims of armed offenders. This time they cannot be accused of absence: The two policemen who were involved in the shooting were on a stake-out when three armed men fired automatic weapons at them.
But while it’s necessary for the police to enter Arab communities and actively deal with crime, they cannot turn these communities into the Wild West. “Our public indeed demands a fight against criminals and the eradication of crime, but not to kill the best of our sons,” said MK Ahmad Tibi. The Mossawa Center for the Rights of Arab Citizens in Israel also wondered why such an incident had to end with harm to innocent people.
It has yet to be determined whether Hijazi and the doctor were hit by police fire or by that of the suspects. This is being investigated by the Justice Ministry’s department for investigation of policemen. But one thing is already clear: There has been ongoing neglect by Israeli governments of the growth in Arab towns of “monstrous crime organizations,” as Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh put it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is primarily to blame for this neglect. Until this election campaign, the governments he headed regarded the Arab population as a demographic threat, as “a state within a state,” their right to vote as a democratic threat and their Knesset representatives as a fifth column. Three weeks ago, in a cynical attempt by Netanyahu to court the Arab vote, he promised to eradicate violence and open more police stations.
“I am personally making the commitment to assure the security of each and every one of you, so you can leave home without fear,” he told a gathering in Nazareth. In Netanyahu’s wake, other parties have discovered the Arabs, and they, too, are trying to attract the “Arab vote.” One hopes that the sudden interest the Arabs are generating in the political realm won’t dissipate after the election, and that campaign promises won’t – again – turn out to be false ones. But in the near term the government must act to approve and finance a plan to fight violence in Arab communities.
The time has come to once and for all put the fight against the violence in Arab society at the top of our national priorities.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.