Arab Leaders Start Protest in Jerusalem Against Government Inaction on Deadly Crime

Elected officials and representatives of Israel’s Arab-Palestinian national minority demonstrated in Jerusalem on Tuesday against the crime plaguing their communities, calling on the government to increase security. According to Israeli police, 84 Arabs have been killed since the start of the year. The Abraham Initiatives, which tracks violence in the Arab community, put the toll at 85.

Arab community leaders set up a protest tent outside the Prime Minister’s Office to demonstrate against deadly violence, May 29, 2023 (Photo: Zo Haderech)

Around 50 current and former members of parliament, among them Hadash MKs Ayman Odeh, Aida Touma-Sliman, Ofer Cassif and Yousef Atawne as well as municipal representatives, Social Workers Union members and Jewish supporters, gathered in a tent in front of the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a sit-in that began Monday. “The police are complicit in the crime,” read a large banner hanging in the tent in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

Mohammad Barakeh, the chairman of the Arab Monitoring High Committee and leading Communist Party of Israel activist, was quoted as saying that “crime in Arab society is the result of a deliberate policy, designed to divert attention from political and national issues and focus it on personal security.”

“Hardly a day goes by without gunshots, injuries or murders,” he said journalists. “Instead of working to develop our towns and society, we’re thinking about how to get out of our homes safely.” Barakeh accused Israeli authorities of responsibility for the “catastrophe,” because the Arab community itself is not allowed to have “the power to arrest, prosecute or confiscate weapons.”

Data published this month by the Knesset Research and Information Center on crime in Arab society show that for murders between 2018 and 2022, in which the victim was Arab, indictments were filed in only 23% of the cases. The rate of indictments when the victim was Jewish was 71% – more than tripled. The rate of indictments in cases where the victim was Arab has continued to decline, steadily since 2019, when it was 42%, in 2020 it was 35%, in 2021 it was 29%.

In recent months, with the election of the new far-right government and the appointment of fascist Itamar Ben-Gvir as national security minister, the situation become worse. Ben-Gvir, viewed widely in the Arab community as a racist, is not the personality able to build the bridges with the Arab authorities that will enable the cooperation needed to deal effectively with this issue.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, as well, is not seen in the Arab community as sincere in his efforts.  Any credit he had with the Arab community melted away after a tape emerged in April of him telling Ben-Gvir, “Mr. Minister, nothing can be done. They murder each other. It’s their nature. It’s the mentality of the Arabs.”