Death toll in 2023 more than double the rate of last year

After young mom shot dead, Herzog decries sharp spike in homicides as ‘civil terror’

‘Real national calamity,’ president says after Hanan Abu Hait shot dead in suspected criminal feud; Knesset National Security Committee won’t meet, as part of Otzma Yehudit boycott

President Isaac Herzog speaks at his official residence in Jerusalem, May 8, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog speaks at his official residence in Jerusalem, May 8, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog on Monday decried a dramatic surge in homicides and violent crime as an “epidemic” plaguing Israel.

Over 90 suspected murders have taken place since the start of 2023, more than double last year’s rate. The vast majority of the victims are Arab Israelis, whose communities have seen a spike in violent crime the past several years.

Speaking hours after a young Arab mother was shot dead in Haifa as part of a suspected criminal dispute, Herzog said Israel was in a “time of emergency” and called the killings a “strategic challenge” for the country.

“It seems like no one is immune at a time when the entire worlds of Israeli citizens are being destroyed before our eyes,” Herzog said in a statement. “This is a real national calamity. This is civil terror — yes, civil terror — that threatens all of us and we all must come together against it, immediately.”

“This civil terror has no limits,” he added, warning anyone could be affected by the violence.

Herzog also called on the government and all official bodies involved in the matter “to convene urgently for emergency deliberations, sit together, make decisive and resolute decisions, stop with the concerns and excuses, act with all tools and lead an uncompromising all-out war that will eradicate this threat.”

Police at the scene of a suspected triple murder at an apartment in Taibe on May 1, 2023. (Courtesy Israel Police)

His comments came as the Knesset’s National Security Committee, which oversees the state’s efforts to tackle violent crime and other related matters, announced it would not convene this week as part of Otzma Yehudit’s boycott of Knesset activities.

The far-right coalition party, whose member Zvika Fogel heads the committee, is currently tussling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the extent of its influence on government decision-making. Otzma Yehudit is led by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who campaigned as tough on crime but has been largely mum on the soaring crimewave.

The Abraham Initiatives, which campaigns against violent crime, slammed the cancellation of the committee’s planned sessions this week, saying it was being used “as a bargaining chip in Otzma’s cynical political fight against Netanyahu.”

“Not only have the lives of Arab citizens been abandoned, all of our lives have been. This is an emergency situation and we need someone here who will come to work,” it said in a statement.

According to group, 73 Arabs killed in violent circumstances this year, 65 of them by gunfire.

Referring to the murder on Monday, a police source said criminals were heavily protected, meaning that victims such as Hanan Abu Hait, the mother of a five-year-old boy, were instead chosen as targets.

Undated photo of Hanan Abu Hait, who was shot dead in Haifa, May 7, 2023. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“The goal is to eliminate, and it doesn’t matter who, in revenge for the previous murder,” a police source told Channel 12.

“All in the name of ‘revenge.’ The senior criminals hide or are surrounded by bodyguards for fear that they will be eliminated, and those who pay the price are innocent people or those who have no direct contact with crime families,” the source said.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, 13 women have been murdered since the start of the year, compared to six in the same period in 2022.

Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman said Monday that the state needed to find a way to help women who are trapped in dangerous situations.

“There are women who are trapped within the criminal organizations and we need a clear plan on how to protect them,” she said.

Arab communities have seen a rising wave of violence in recent years. The violence includes family feuds, mafia turf wars, and violence against women. Some blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely turn a blind eye to the violence.

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