An Arab Journalist Feared for His Life, His Friends Say He Won't Be the Last to Be Killed

'No one is safe in the Arab community,' said a relative of independent Arab-Israeli journalist Nidal Agbaria, who was shot to death in Umm al-Fahm on Sunday

Deiaa Haj Yahia
Deiaa Haj Yahia
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Demonstrators protesting the murder of Agbaria, Monday in Umm al-Fahm.
Demonstrators protesting the murder of Agbaria, Monday in Umm al-Fahm.Credit: Amir Levi
Deiaa Haj Yahia
Deiaa Haj Yahia

“I’m aware of the growing crime in the Arab society, and how easy it is to pull the trigger,” independent Arab journalist Nidal Agbaria said in an interview with Haaretz a year ago. On Sunday, after a year of constant threats, Agbaria was shot and killed near his home in the northern Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. Previously, some 30 bullets were fired at his house in one incident, and in another his brother's home was shot at.

The 44-year-old Agbaria felt his life was in danger and told people close to him that he had become caught up in a conflict that was unconnected to him, and that he had not found anyone who would listen or protect him.

“Nidal warned me a couple of times that his life was in danger,” said Hasan Sa’alan, a reporter for Yedioth Ahronot’s Ynet news website and a friend of Agbaria. “The police knew about all the threats he was getting, he gave them all the material and cooperated with them.”

Israeli police suspect that Agbaria was murdered because of his brother’s debts to Arab organized crime groups. It is suspected that the gunmen who shot Agbaria meant to shoot his brother, who left his home over a year ago and has since disappeared.

Dozens of Arab journalists gathered in Nidal’s home on Monday to console the family. “I’m very much afraid for my life,” said Anes Agbaria from Umm al-Fahm. The city’s residents greatest fear after the murder can be seen in Agbaria’s neighbors – who vehemently refused to give any interviews or testimony about the incident to reporters who came to cover the murder.

“No one in the Arab community is safe,” said Ala’a Agbaria, a relative of the victim. “Not children, not women, not people with status. Nidal’s murder is a message to all of us from the crime organizations, that we will be their captives.”

Harsh criticism against the police was voiced at Agbaria’s funeral. In the past, Agbaria had criticized the police, saying it was disregarding the violence in the Arab community. “Since 2000 we have been saying that the police and government policy are the cause of the crime,” said Ala’a. The police did not take enough action to prevent the murder, he added. We don’t expect that the police will do something, they are part of the problem.”

Nidal Agbaria, the journalist who was killed in Umm al-Fahm on Sunday.

Agbaria’s father, Mohammed, said: “Nidal received threats and tried to bring in a number of groups, including people for a 'sulha'," a traditional Arab ceremony that sets down reconciliation conditions between two parties in dispute. Mohammed added that "No one succeeded in helping him. This proves that the criminals control the agenda.”

Agbaria was married and the father of an 11-year-old daughter. He studied computer science at the Technion – Israeli Institute of Technology in Haifa. After he graduated, Agbaria founded the “bldtna” (Our City) website, which covered Umm al-Fahm and the Wadi Ara region. He worked in media and advertising for years.

Agbaria’s mother, Friel, said: “Nidal was a social person, he loved to help others. Why would they murder a person like him? Nidal was everything at home, the helper, the support.” His mother said she could not accept that Nidal would never return. “So far, I have faith that he will come back. What will we tell his daughter? I hope the person who murdered him will suffer like I am.”

The police said that violence in the Arab community is “an unacceptable social plague and we are working to eradicate it and fight against it with all the means at our disposal for public order and safety. The investigation of murder cases is conducted by the police in a thorough and professional manner while striving in an uncompromising way to reach the truth and bring the murderers to justice, and the same goes for the investigation of the murder that occurred on [Sunday] in Umm al-Fahm. The Israel Police invest great efforts in solving all murder cases, through the units skilled in fighting serious crime, while using overt and covert means,” said the police.

The police added that at the same time, they are continuing with the campaign in the Arab community, which starting in 2020 has led to a rise in the confiscation of firearms and illegal weapons, as well as an increase in the number of those charged with illegal weapons crimes and are being held until the end of the legal proceedings against them.

This is due to the police work in productive cooperation with prosecutors and the rest of the law enforcement authorities. “We will continue in our determined and uncompromising battle against weapons offenses, all with the goal of confiscating illegal weapons, preventing crimes, preserving public order and safety and enabling proper, safe and routine life for all Israeli citizens wherever they are,” said the police.

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