2 Rahat men killed in drive-by shooting, as 2023 Arab crime death toll jumps to 144

Both victims in their 20s; police believe incident a result of gang family feud, find torched vehicle nearby and are checking to see whether it was used by at-large suspects

The scene of a deadly drive-by shooting on Route 40 on August 8, 2023. (Israel Police)
The scene of a deadly drive-by shooting on Route 40 on August 8, 2023. (Israel Police)

Two men in their 20s were killed in a drive-by shooting late Tuesday night, as a violent crime wave continued to ravage Israel’s Arab community in unchecked, record numbers.

The residents of the predominantly Bedouin town of Rahat were the 143rd and 144th members of the Arab community killed as a result of the crime wave this year. In all of 2022, 116 Arab community members were killed in violent crime, and an annual record of 126 community members were killed in 2021.

The latest victims — who were not immediately identified — were driving on Route 40 near the Lehavim Junction in southern Israel when suspects opened fire from another moving vehicle.

The young men were rushed to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center in critical condition, and doctors were forced to declare their deaths shortly after their arrival. A third man was shot and moderately wounded in the incident and managed to get to the hospital on his own, according to police, who did not specify whether he was in the car with the two other victims.

Police opened an investigation into the incident and told Hebrew media that their initial findings indicated that the shooting was the result of a long-festering dispute between gang families in Rahat. Law enforcement speculated that those behind Tuesday’s attack sought revenge for the killing of a relative by members of a rival gang in Rahat earlier this summer.

Officers uncovered a vehicle abandoned and torched on a nearby road and were checking whether it was the car used in the late-night shooting.

On Wednesday afternoon, police announced the arrest of a suspect in the shooting, a resident of Rahat in his 30s. He was taken for questioning and due to appear for a remanding hearing Thursday at the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court.

Activists march with symbolic coffins denouncing the violent crimes against Arab communities on August 6, 2023 in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The killings of the Rahat residents came less than a day after Iham Abu Saleh, a 19-year-old soccer player from Shfaram, was shot dead in his hometown.

A wave of violent crime has engulfed the Arab community in Israel in recent years.

Many community leaders blame the crime wave on the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence. They also point to decades of neglect and discrimination by government offices as the root cause of the problem.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who campaigned on promises to beef up public safety and whose ministry oversees the police, has largely stayed quiet on the soaring crimewave, despite his ministry overseeing the police.

Members of the previous unity coalition — which included an Arab party for the first time in Israeli history — argue that measures they took to address root causes of the endemic led to a rare, albeit marginal, drop in killings.

Most Popular
read more: