Arab community death toll climbs to 97 since start of year

5 shot dead at carwash in town near Nazareth in apparent gangland massacre

Shooting in Yafa an-Naseriyye is mostly deadly act of criminal violence in years; 3-year-old girl and her dad seriously hurt by gunfire in separate incident

The scene of a shooting at a car wash in Yafa an-Naseriyye, June 8, 2023. (Magen David Adom)
The scene of a shooting at a car wash in Yafa an-Naseriyye, June 8, 2023. (Magen David Adom)

Five people were killed in a mass shooting Thursday in a town near Nazareth, one of the most deadly incidents of apparent criminal violence in recent years.

The five were evacuated to the hospital after being critically hurt at a carwash in Yafa an-Naseriyye, but were later pronounced dead.

The fatalities were not immediately identified but reports said the killings were linked to a running feud between the Bakri and Hariri crime families that’s claimed 26 lives.

Police said officers were on the scene collecting evidence and searching for suspects.

The force added that Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai was headed to Yafa an-Naseriyye after the shooting, which it described as criminal, not terror-related.

The shooting appeared to be the deadliest non-terror mass killing since 2009, when six members of Ushrenko family were murdered at their home in Rishon Lezion.

Police at the scene where five people were shot dead in the town of Yafa an-Naseriyye, June 8, 2023. (Fadi Amun/Flash90)

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, whom critics have lashed amid the major spike in deadly violence since he took office in late December, also visited the town. Most of the deaths have taken place in Arab Israeli communities.

In a separate incident about 20 minutes earlier, a 3-year-old girl and her 30-year-old father were shot and seriously injured in Kafr Kanna, also a town near Nazareth.

Medics from the Magen David Adom ambulance service took the pair to Poriya Hospital near Tiberias.

The medical center said the girl had been intubated and that her father’s condition was critical and unstable.

Police launched an investigation into the Kafr Kanna shooting, which they said was part of a criminal dispute.

Illustrative: Israel Police investigate the scene of a crime on June 2, 2021. (Israel Police)

According to the Abraham Initiatives, an anti-violence monitoring group, at least 97 Arabs have been killed in violent circumstances since the start of the year, a major leap from the 35 slayings at this point in 2022.

“We are horrified by the massacre of five people in broad daylight and wish a full and speedy recovery to the toddler who was injured today from gunfire,” the group said in a statement.

It also called for the dismissal of Ben Gvir, and urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately convene a ministerial panel set up to tackle the wave of violent crime in the Arab community.

“We call on the prime minister — there is no time! Convene the ministerial committee today and start working. Every day Ben Gvir is the national security minister is a day in which the circle of blood widens,” the Abraham Initiatives said.

Opponents of the government also tore into Ben Gvir and called for Netanyahu to act.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said the premier should head a committee “to fight violence in Arab society… and not leave the handling of the matter to Ben Gvir, the worst and biggest failure of a minister the police has ever known.”

National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar charged Netanyahu “was not at all” involved in addressing the matter and called him and Ben Gvir “a group of losers.”

Netanyahu later issued a video statement in which he said he was “horrified” by the mass slaying in Yafa an-Naseriyye.

“We are determined to stop this cycle of murders,” he said. “We do this not only with police reinforcements but with the help of the Shin Bet. I’m determined to bring in the Shin Bet as an aid to the Israel Police against these criminals and criminal organizations, these murders.”

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu with head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir at a vote in the Knesset plenum, December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Several coalition members including Ben Gvir have pushed for the Shin Bet’s involvement in combating crime, particularly in Arab communities where deadly violence has claimed many lives in recent years.

The Shin Bet is generally tasked only with fighting nationalistically motivated crime and many Arab leaders oppose the agency’s involvement in non-terror-related matters.

Senior officials in the Shin Bet are reportedly also vehemently opposed to the agency’s involvement in the fight against criminal organizations, worrying that it might not even be legal to employ the tools it uses in the fight against Palestinian terror on civilians and that it could be harmful to do so.

A member of Netanyahu’s Likud party threatened early Thursday to stop voting with the coalition unless a bill is advanced to get the Shin Bet security agency involved in combating crime in the Arab community. The proposal has been rejected by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation due to opposition from Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and from the Shin Bet.

Police, politicians and community leaders have struggled over the past several years to rein in criminal activity driving the spiking violence, which has appeared to ramp up in recent months.

Many community leaders blame 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.

The head of a police unit tasked with fighting crime among Arab Israelis, Deputy Commissioner Natan Bozna, resigned on Tuesday. No reason for the departure was given by Bozna or the force, and police did not announce a replacement.

The announcement came a day after Ben Gvir said he would appoint a policy coordinator to help address the rampant bloodshed.

Also on Monday, MKs from the majority-Arab Hadash-Ta’al party met with Netanyahu to discuss the problem and demand urgent action to combat the crime wave.

The sides agreed with Netanyahu on forming a committee for fighting violence in the Arab community that the prime minister himself will head, Netanyahu’s office said.

Analysts say the killings have been driven by underworld violence fueled by powerful gangs engaged in extortion, loan sharking, protection rackets and other criminal activities.

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