Israeli Arabs Look to Age-old Reconciliation Tradition in Bid to Curb Violence

The program established by Israel’s Higher Arab Monitoring Committee provides uniform and binding procedures to be followed by local sulha committees to overcome feuds

Deiaa Haj Yahia
Deiaa Haj Yahia
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Police at the scene of Rabab Abu Siam's murder in Lod, in July.
Police at the scene of Rabab Abu Siam's murder in Lod, in July.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Deiaa Haj Yahia
Deiaa Haj Yahia

A leading organization in Israel’s Arab community publicly launched a new dispute resolution program last week in an effort to help stem the ongoing crime wave in the community, which has included violence between rival families as well as violence among criminals.

The program, which was established by Israel’s Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, has been in operation prior to its public launch and has stepped up its activities in recent months amid the upsurge of homicide cases in Arab communities around the country. Last year alone, there were 126 homicides in the Arab community.

It provides for uniform and binding procedures to be followed by local sulha committees, a reference to traditional Arab reconciliation and dispute resolution. The 21-section agreement signed by the local committees requires their members to follow its provisions to resolve disputes between rival families or individuals.

Families are required, for example, to disassociate themselves and to shun a family member who commits an offense against another family. It also calls for boycotting individuals involved with crime organizations as well as those engaging in threatening behavior. The rules require that conciliation committees’ efforts be conditioned on the participants’ not bringing relatives of the alleged offender into a dispute.

Protests after the murder of an Israeli-Arab teenager in March.Credit: Rami Shllush

The new agreement is at variance with some customs that formerly prevailed in sulha proceedings between families. For instance, the new agreement only requires that the offending family member move away from a local town or village rather than requiring the entire family to do so.

The program is headed by Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, former head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. Salah was sentenced to 17 months prison in 2020 for incitement to terrorism and support for illegal organizations. At the time, his lawyer called the court’s decision “a continuation of ... political persecution,” saying that Salah’s values are based on the Koran.

Data collected by local sulha committees and presented at Saturday’s public launch of the program paint a grim picture of the problem that blood feuds pose in the Arab community.

Sheikh Mahmoud al-Jaber of Umm al-Fahm, who has been a leading figure in the conciliation efforts, said that there are more than 30 active blood feuds among Arab citizens of the country in which no sulha has been achieved or in which only temporary agreement has been reached – meaning that a retaliatory killing was possible at any time.

According to the data, the feuds stem primarily from financial disputes, notably involving so-called “gray market” loans by unofficial lenders, but there were also those involving property disputes and conflicts between crime organizations.

At Saturday’s conference, which was held in the northern Arab town of Baka al-Garbiyeh, it was made clear that the conciliation program is not intended to replace the work of the police or legal authorities. The head of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, former Knesset member Mohammed Barakeh, said the program is meant to complement what he called the authorities’ faulty handling of crime.

Protest against violence in the city of Tira, last year.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

“The law can deal with the specific case of the offender, but the conflict can leave considerable anger behind among the affected family,” he said. “And this is where the [conciliation] committee’s important work lies – to end any lingering anger and any possibility of reigniting the conflict.”

One main reason for a local committee network committed to uniform procedure is to head off the involvement of sulha committees that the crime organizations established to serve the criminal groups’ interests or to enable them to consolidate control. The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee is therefore seeking to make the conciliation panels, which is to oversee, the first stop for families with disputes.

Barakeh called the local committees “the sole address in Arab society for settling disputes” and the first official Arab community institution engaged in sulha and conciliation.”

Noa Shpigel and Jack Khoury contributed to this report.

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