Unlike the Black Lives Matters movement in the United States, the majority of the Arab population in Israel seeks greater police involvement, not less
Since the start of 2021, nearly 100 Israeli Arab citizens have been murdered in Israel. And since the year is not yet over, it is likely that the record of 113 Arab Israeli victims killed in 2020 will be exceeded. These killings are not attributable to Israeli soldiers or due to security incidents; most involve Arab citizens killing other Arab citizens, often because of family feuds or because of organized crime.
Arab Israelis are hardly surprised by the numbers and they desperately need a change.
Last month, Sheren Falah Saab, a 34-year-old Arab blogger from the village of Abu Snan, in northern Israel, woke up to the news of two murders in Arab towns overnight. She tweeted the #Arab_lives_matter hashtag in Hebrew and was surprised at how quickly it spread. Soon social activists, lawmakers, and ordinary citizens in Israel began using the hashtag inspired by #BlackLivesMatter and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the United States.
It was both a cry for help and a wake-up call.
“The way we talk about minorities needs to be changed, we need to hear more voices and stories from Arab society… that’s where the change will start,” said Falah Saab. “The complexity of the problem must be recognized. It is not just the murders, there are other prices to be paid for this increase in crime. “
She wasn’t the first to use the #Arab_lives_matter hashtag. A few months earlier, it had been introduced by Abraham Initiatives, a non-governmental organization that promotes Judeo-Arab coexistence. But as the surge in cases grabbed the headlines, his tweet gave the concept additional momentum.
“This has helped bring the issue to the forefront of public debate among the Jewish public,” said Thabet Abu Rass, co-director of the Abraham Initiatives.
Falah Saab says she has witnessed a recent shift in the way the mainstream media in Israel covers the issue. Interviews with bereaved parents are now being conducted and representatives of the Arab population, who were not previously invited to television studios, are now frequent guests. But this is only the start of the major change that is needed.
“Ultimately, we will need to see the policies made by the decision makers,” added Falah Saab.
The way we talk about minorities needs to be changed, we need to hear more voices and stories from Arab society… this is where the change will start
The virtual protest and increased interest in the issue comes after years of Israeli authorities neglecting the issue, treating it as a sectoral issue. For years, there has been virtually no law enforcement, few attempts at prevention, and a seemingly diminished understanding of the fundamental issues that need to be addressed.
When he took office in June, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pledged to tackle the many issues facing Arab society. From underemployment and under-education to housing problems and widespread discrimination, the challenges are immense.
“We have finally started to systematically tackle violence in the Arab sector,” Bennett said Monday in a speech at the opening of the winter session of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. “What has been neglected for years and has become lawless territory within the State of Israel, we have started to deal with it with determination. “
“A young generation has grown up in recent years, without a job, without an executive,” said Falah Saab. “Experts have warned of these young people who will degenerate into crime and violence without the appropriate solutions. “
She points out that most of the victims are under 30 and that the younger generation has been marked and deprived of hope for a better future.
The Arab minority in Israel represents around 20% of the population. In recent years, crime rates within the Arab community have skyrocketed, far exceeding the rates of the general population. The new government led by Bennett is the first to include an Arab political party as a member of the coalition. But, for years, Arab activists and politicians have called for greater state involvement despite the Arab population’s growing alienation from the state.
“This is a population with significant gaps and inequalities in all aspects of life,” said Falah Saab. “If the issue of equal rights is addressed, we will see a change in everything and fewer Arabs will be murdered. “
While Israeli Arabs are citizens with the right to vote, they face great discrimination. Many Jewish Israelis view them with suspicion, due to their often close ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the widespread perception that they identify with the Palestinian national cause.
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Over the years, there have been several government initiatives and budget allocations aimed at tackling the issues plaguing Arab society. However, most of the promises were not kept and the funds fell short of their targets.
Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz, a former senior police officer, has been tasked by the government to lead the current effort. The plan includes increasing the police presence in Arab towns and on highways, strengthening intelligence and investigative capacities, increasing law enforcement focused on organized crime, combating protection rackets and the advancement of relevant legislation.
The soaring crime rate is not the only proof of the state’s mismanagement of the situation. Only a fraction of the murder cases are resolved, which testifies to the low priority accorded to them by the police, but also to the lack of cooperation of the Arab population with the police.
“The police are under great pressure,” Abu Rass said. “There is a feeling that the police are powerless. The majority of Arab society does not trust the police and increasingly despises them. “
Images of an Arab suspect beating a policeman in an Arab town in northern Israel over the weekend sent shockwaves across the country, adding to the growing sentiment.
As the perception of the police continues to decline, organized crime in the Arab sector has become more daring and sophisticated. Frequent kidnappings, the use of technology, and the increased ability to lure unemployed youth into criminal activity make it even more difficult for law enforcement in Israel.
The majority of Arab society does not trust the police and increasingly disregards them
Unlike the BLM movement in the United States, the majority of the Arab population in Israel seeks greater police involvement, not less, even though the Israeli police are largely suspicious of the minority, which is a big hurdle to overcome. Meanwhile, an announcement earlier this week that the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, would be involved in tackling crime and violence in the Arab sector drew much criticism.
“It gives the impression that dealing with the Arab problem is still a matter of national security,” Abu Rass said, “but it is a matter of personal security.”
Bennett defended the contested decision.
“The Arab public must understand that the security forces are not the enemy – they are the solution,” he said at a meeting of the special ministerial committee held on Sunday to discuss violence in the Arab sector .
While the statistics look grim for this year and the violence is not decreasing, there is still hope.
“Arab society is going through a major crisis,” Abu Rass said. “Despite the great fear in society, there are enough positive forces to overcome the wave of crime.”
“As long as the matter is discussed and thought through, we are in the right direction, but ask me in a few months,” concluded Falah Saab.