244 Arabs said killed in 2023 violence, more than double 2022 toll

Abraham Initiatives coexistence organization says this was bloodiest year ever for Arab homicides, blames government for pausing earlier efforts to curb trend

Police at the scene of a shooting in the northern town of Kafr Kanna, August 26, 2023. (Flash90)
Police at the scene of a shooting in the northern town of Kafr Kanna, August 26, 2023. (Flash90)

More Arabs were murdered in 2023 than in any previous year, according to a year-end report published Sunday by the Abraham Initiatives, a coexistence organization that tracks crime statistics.

According to the report, 244 members of the Arab community were killed in Israel in 2023, over twice as many as the previous year.

The report by the Abraham Initiatives, which has worked extensively on relations between Israel Police and Arab Israelis, roundly blamed the sharp uptick in homicides on National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, whose ministry is responsible for policing and who was elected on a platform of the need to improve personal security.

Arab localities saw 219 homicidal incidents, in some of which multiple people were killed, the report said.

Police have solved only 23 of the murder cases — some 10.5 percent — down from 21% in 2022 and 19% in 2021.

The vast majority of homicides — some 88% — were the result of shooting, highlighting the problem of the proliferation of illegal firearms in Arab society, the organization said.

FILE – National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 5, 2023. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

Nearly half of those killed were men between the ages of 18 and 30. The Galilee and the so-called Triangle area both saw the sharpest increase in homicides, at 148.7% and 109%, respectively.

In 2023, 16 Arab women killed, compared to 13 in 2022 and 16 in 2021.

The organization noted that in recent years there has been an uptick in women killed as a result of organized crime, though most women killed are victims of domestic abuse.

The report also noted that 4.5% of homicide victims were targeted for their sexual orientation, though it is unclear how this compared to previous years.

September was the bloodiest month this year in Arab communities, with 29 murder victims.

Police officers at the scene of a mass shooting in Basmat Tab’un on September 27, 2023. (Shir Torem/FLASH90)

The current war in Gaza saw a downturn in killings among Arab citizens of Israel: comparing the two-month periods before and after October 7, the organization found that homicides had decreased by 50%, which it attributes to increased police presence in Arab towns since the start of hostilities.

Most homicides among Arabs in 2023 were the result of criminal gang violence, according to the report.

The increase in homicides, particularly in northern Israel, was attributed to power struggles among gangs that were hobbled by aggressive policing following two wide-ranging plans implemented by the last government under then-prime minister Naftali Bennett, which gave NIS 2.4 billion to police forces in Arab localities, and NIS 30 billion to Arab community development.

At the time, Arab Israeli officials involved in drafting the plans described it as an unprecedented effort to end persistent gaps between Arab and Jewish communities. Arab mayors, parliamentarians, civil society organizations and government officials worked on the proposal intensively for several months.

However, the Abraham Initiatives’ report said that both plans were effectively hollowed by the current government.

In July, it was reported that far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich intended to siphon off millions from the two programs to fund yeshiva stipends. At the same time, Ben Gvir urged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government cancel the entire Arab community development plan.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (right) of the Religious Zionism party talks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit in the Knesset plenum on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The Abraham Initiatives’ report also noted the upcoming municipal elections — now postponed until February due to the war — as a cause of violence, as local groups vie for power, sometimes violently.

In April there was a shooting outside the home of Tayibe’s mayor, killing his bodyguard, and in August, the director-general of the Tira municipality was killed.

Following the latter incident, Shin Bet director Ronen Bar engaged with Arab municipal leaders in a meeting from which Ben Gvir was conspicuously missing. Ben Gvir had previously told the mayor of Tayibe that the killing of his bodyguard was the result of the how “his friends” in the Knesset vote.

The report ended with several policy proposals, including suggesting Ben Gvir be replaced by a minister who can earn the trust of Arab citizens, and a resumption of the two government plans for the Arab community.

In September, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman decried as inadequate the government’s response to surging criminal violence in Arab Israeli towns.

“The jump in crime in the Arab community represents a resounding failure of Israeli governments,” Englman said during a conference in the northern town of Sakhnin, calling the situation “inconceivable.”

“The prime minister, national security minister and all ministers must act to eradicate crime in Arab society,” he added.

Arab Israelis march in Haifa to protest the police response to violence in their community, August 31, 2023. (Flash90)

Many Arab Israeli community leaders put the blame on the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars, and violence against women.

The communities have also suffered from years of neglect by state authorities.

More than half of Arab Israelis live under the poverty line, and their cities and towns often have crumbling infrastructure and poor public services. The government issues economic rankings to all the country’s cities from 1 to 10. Almost no Arab city scores higher than 5.

Meanwhile, authorities have blamed burgeoning organized crime and the proliferation of weaponry, while some have pointed to a failure by communities to cooperate with law enforcement to root out criminals.

Most Popular
read more: