The issue of violence and crime in Arab society has been making headlines again over the past few days. This isn’t happening because Arab lives are of any importance in Israel, but because the cycle of violence has flared up – three people murdered in two days – and left behind helpless families, along with a series of interviews in the media about the powerlessness of the police and the lack of personal safety in Arab communities.
The average Israeli has trouble imagining reality in these communities, but it’s enough to walk around the Arab neighborhoods in Haifa, Lod or Ramle to realize that leaving the house means facing death – running the risk of getting shot by a wayward bullet and in the best scenario not dying; witnessing a murder and automatically becoming the target of threats and persecution, or finding yourself targeted because of a dispute that has nothing to do with you directly but still could make your life hell.
The helplessness and frustration of the Arab public was described well the other day by Ynet reporter Hassan Shaalan, interviewed on Army Radio after the murder of his friend and colleague Nidal Agbaria. “The police knew everything, the writing was on the wall, murderers get the green light,” he said. His statements reveal the whole story, the feeling of insecurity in Arab society and lack of confidence in law enforcement in general, and in the police in particular.
And after Agbaria’s murder, the circle of bloodshed widened. On Sunday, Lod resident Manar Abu Hajaj and her 14-year-old daughter Khudra were shot to death. Khudra’s twin sister Maryam, who was with them in the car when they were shot, was moderately injured. Haaretz figures show 72 people murdered in the Arab community since the beginning of the year, among them eight women. The number of Arabs murdered by this time last year was 80, and during 2021 the figure was 126. This is the daily reality in Arab society, which has recently become a hot topic among Jewish politicians who boast that the number of Arab murder victims is “low” compared to previous years.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid tweeted: “The terrible murder in Lod of Manar Hajaj and her 14-year-old daughter Khudra, together with the continuing violent events of the past few days, require us to increase enforcement and the presence of the police in the cities and punish every act of violence more harshly.”
Lapid said it was “inconceivable that a mother and her daughter are murdered.” Lapid apparently has never walked around the dark, neglected alleyways in the Arab communities and has not seen the younger generation wandering the streets of Lod doing nothing. His statements prove his disconnect from reality in Arab society and the deeper causes that lead to a rise in crime, which will not be solved by increased enforcement.
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On the face of it, the pledge to work “with all our might” sounds effective. This is also Lapid’s slogan. But focusing on a policy of aggression and harsher punishment won’t increase the sense of personal safety when people are being murdered every day. In addition, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the handling of murders in Arab communities by the police is different than in Jewish communities. According to Haaretz figures, the rate of murders solved in Arab society from the beginning of the year stands at 18 percent – that is, only 13 of the 72 murders have been solved. This contrasts with the rate of murders solved in the Jewish community – 73 percent.
The number of unsolved murders reflects the power apparatus used against Arab society, which does not relate to the lives of the Arab citizens. As long as the politicians view the problem from above, without a deeper understanding of the entirety of the factors involved, the situation will not change. Violence will not be resolved by increased enforcement, but rather when Israel’s Arabs are treated equally and fairly when they turn to the police, without prejudice and suggestions for the traditional conflict resolution of the sulha.
A program can be put together to uproot crime, and pride taken in the decline in the number of murders, but the Arab public will still feel unsafe. The policy that discriminates between Jews and Arabs is part of the problem, it is from this root that neglect stems. It is hard to believe that something will change, especially when the issue of violence becomes propaganda used by politicians to speak to the hearts of the Arab public. But the despair and lack of faith in the police in the Arab community win out over the hope that some politician or other will be able to change the situation.
A year and a half ago, when Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai came into office, he stated that one of the police’s most important goals was uprooting crime in Arab society. Has the goal been achieved? Police spokesman Eli Levi said yesterday on Radio FM 103: “It succeeded big-time.” Levi added that since the beginning of this year, police have thwarted 60 murders “that were already on the way with contract killers, with a bullet in the chamber.”
To police, success is measured in numbers. But Arabs in Israel are not numbers; they are citizens. It is their right to receive full protection and feel safe, to leave their house without fear. The viewpoint of law enforcement is the tip of the iceberg, of an apparatus that over the years has excluded and neglected Israel’s Arab citizens and continues to view them as unequal, second-rate citizens. The people who pay the price are the innocent, like Agbaria, Abu Hajaj and those who will follow them.