After weeks of protests, PM announces team to tackle violence in Arab community

Committee tasked with formulating a national program to eradicate violence and crime in Arab society within 90 days; Joint List: ‘We’re not starry-eyed over Netanyahu’s promises’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, October 27, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, October 27, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced the formation of a committee to combat violence in the Arab community.

According to a statement, Netanyahu convened a special meeting on the matter on Monday evening, at which he said he wanted to bring change to a matter which “causes immense suffering to the residents, and major harm to the State of Israel.”

The team is to be headed by Ronen Peretz, the acting director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, who is tasked with formulating within 90 days a national program to eradicate violence and crime in the Arab society.

In addition to the prime minister and Peretz, the meeting was attended by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Education Minister Rafi Peretz, Justice Minister Amir Ohana, National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, interim Police Commissioner Motti Cohen, National Economic Council chief Avi Simhon and additional officials.

Israeli Arabs protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings in their communities, in the Arab town of Majd al-Krum in northen Israel on October 3, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The Joint List responded to the announcement, saying it would wait to what actions are taken by the panel.

“We’re not starry-eyed over Netanyahu’s promises. The test will be in the implementation,” the party said in a statement.

The party criticized the mechanism proposed by the prime minister, saying the process should involve political and municipal leaders of the Arab community and experts. “We won’t take diktats from on high,” it said.

Joint List MK Mansour Abbas, who heads the Arab party’s committee on the issue, also issued a statement, saying that the decision to set up the team was “a positive one.”

Mansour Abbas of the Ra’am party holds a press conference after a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“We will continue to work with government ministries and entities that are supposed to address the phenomenon of violence and crime and will continue to protest government failure and neglect,” Mansour said in a statement.

Large numbers of Arab Israelis have participated in protests against violence in their communities in recent weeks, calling on authorities to take greater action to curb it.

Arab leaders say the Israel Police largely ignores the violence in their communities, which includes family feuds and mafia turf wars, domestic violence and so-called honor killings.

In recent years, Arab Israelis have been involved in a significantly higher number of shootings than Jews. According to a 2018 State Comptroller report, the rate of gunfire-related violations was 17.5 times greater among Arabs than Jews from 2014 to 2016.

While many Arab Israeli politicians and activists maintain that the Israel Police has not taken sufficient action to crack down on violence in their towns, security officials have argued that they face challenges in gaining the trust of members of the community to aid their investigations.

Arab Israelis protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings in their communities in the town of Majd al-Krum, northen Israel, October 3, 2019. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh has called for a “government decision and a wide-ranging plan to eradicate violence and crime in Arab society.”

Since the start of October, Odeh, other Joint List leaders and local Arab Israeli officials have held meetings with many top law enforcement officials to discuss violence in their communities.

During a meeting between Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Joint List members on October 11, the two sides agreed that 600 additional police officers would be allocated to Arab communities to fight crime, the Ynet news site reported at the time.

Separately, the Haifa District Court on Tuesday sentenced Hilal Taha of northern Israel to 22 months in prison for weapons offenses, according to the Ynet news site, despite the fact that a plea deal was reached with prosecutors that he should only serve 14 months.

In his decision, the judge specifically noted the problem of firearms in the Arab community in recent years, even stating that if it were not for the plea bargain, the sentencing would have been more severe.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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