Weekly Protests Against Govt Shift Focus to Arab Community as Murder Toll Reaches 100

Weekly protests against the far-right government took place for the 23rd week in a row Saturday night. Demonstrators this week began to spotlight the government’s inability to combat the soaring homicide rates in the country’s Arab-Palestinian national minority following two separate mass shootings in Arab villages in Israel’s north.

Protesters held signs “Dead-class citizen” during the protests on Saturday night, June 10, 2023 (Photo: Zo Haderech)

Just hours before Saturday night’s protests, reporters broke the news of yet another victim: 18-year-old Sarit Ahmed, a young Arab-Druze woman which was allegedly killed because of her sexual orientation.

Israeli television estimated that between 74,000 and 80,000 attended the main rally on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, while organizers claimed around 100,000, alongside thousands of others in some 150 locations around the country.

The Saturday night’s demonstrations, including in Tel Aviv, began with a silent commemoration for the latest victims of the crime wave in the Arab community, which has claimed the lives of 102 people since the beginning of the year, 12 in just the past week.  During the main rally at Kaplan Street and other locations, protesters held signs reading “dead-class citizen,” which in Hebrew sounds similar to “second-class citizen,” in reference to the Arab community.

Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, the co-executive director of the Arab-Jewish Abraham Initiatives organization, delivered the keynote address in Tel Aviv and blamed the current government for the spike in murders in the community. “I came here this evening to talk about the terrible disaster that our society is experiencing,” he said. “Arab blood is cheap, our lives are worthless in the eyes of the government.”

“What is the government busying itself with while our community is bleeding and collapsing? The judicial overhaul, of which the Arabs will be the biggest victim,” he said before the massive crowd carrying a banner that reads “dead-class citizen.” “We are the immediate victims of neglect [of crime] and the overhaul. It will start with us, but it won’t end with us,” Abu Rass stressed.

Physicist from Weizmann Institute and protest leader Dr. Shikma Schwartzman-Bressler, one of the movement’s figureheads, echoed Abu Rass in her own speech in Tel Aviv. “Murder follows murder, many of the victims are innocent. This is not fate, but the result of appointing a convicted criminal to be in charge of all of our safety,” she said, referring to racist National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. 

Also, in Israel’s far north, hundreds of protesters in Kiryat Shemona held a minute of silence to highlight the skyrocketing Arab murder rate. At the Nahalal junction, near Highway 73, demonstrators lit 100 candles in memory of the 100 victims of violence in Arab society since the beginning of the year. About 3,500 people participated in the demonstration.

Thousands of Arabs protested Friday in Yafia on the country’s north following the funerals of five people killed on Thursday in one of the deadliest single acts of violence in recent years, amid the worst crime waves to hit the minority over the past decade. At the protest near the city of Nazareth, demonstrators raised banners reading “it is my right to live in safety” and “Yafa has lost her sons.”

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel umbrella group also called for a general strike Friday and several demonstrations were held in Arab cities and towns during the weekend to protest the killings. The committee also voiced support for the call within the government to involve the Shin Bet security agency in the fight against violent organized crime in the Arab community.

The leader of the Hadash-Ta’al opposition parliamentary faction launched an attack on the government, saying the blood spilled in Thursday’s shocking massacre was on the hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, the fascist lawmaker from the Otzma Yehudit party. In a statement, MK Ayman Odeh said Arab community leaders “have for years been calling for getting the weapons off the streets and for cracking down on crime organizations.”

“We won’t accept this negligence. We will cause the whole country to strike until this stop,” Odeh said. He urged the government to immediately fire Ben Gvir, echoing calls from other government critics. On Friday, former police chiefs also called to remove Ben Gvir warning he was a “tangible, immediate threat to the security of the State of Israel.”

Related: https://maki.org.il/en/?p=31053