Public Security Minister Omer Barlev pushed back on Tuesday against criticism of the police response to the ongoing plague of violent crime in Arab Israeli communities, a day after two men were shot dead.
Following the two deadly shootings, one of them in the middle of a wedding, social media users began sharing the hashtag #Arab_Lives_Matter in English, Hebrew and Arabic to protest what they say is a lack of action by police to address the violence that has reached record levels in recent years.
In a series of tweets, Barlev blamed the problem on “decades of neglect, disregard and fear” by authorities to get involved in internal disputes in Arab society.
“Yes, #Arab_Lives_Matter matter, but whoever thinks that dozens of years of neglect will be solved in 100 days is delusional,” he wrote, in reference to the newness of the government he is a part of.
“Let’s put the cards on the table — this is not only a problem of crime families, this is a broad phenomenon that is led by extremists who have taken control of the Arab street.”
“Where were you, the leaders of the community?” he asked, while citing the large number of illegal weapons in Arab locales.
Stressing his commitment to addressing violent crime, Barlev said that catching the killers alone won’t solve the problem and noted government proposals for tackling the roots of the violence.
He also said that the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security and counterintelligence service, “will assist,” without further elaborating.
1/ הרצח המזעזע אתמול בחתונה בטייבה היה הרצח ה-88 בחברה הערבית השנה, והיום נשטפה הרשת במחאה: #חיי_ערבים_חשובים #حياة_العرب_مهمه #Arab_lives_matter
הצטרפו אלינו ואל אלפי יהודים וערבים בקריאה החשובה הזו, ובדרישה למיגור האלימות והפשיעה. pic.twitter.com/edNha7E04n
— יוזמות אברהם Abraham Initiatives (@Abraham_Ints) September 21, 2021
Barlev’s comments came as the hashtag became one of the most trending topics on Twitter in Israel, with one of the organizers of the protests writing that tweeting was “our only tool” to bring attention to the matter.
Fadi Maklada, from the northern town of Daliyat al-Karmel, said that Monday’s shooting at a wedding in Taibe touched a nerve among Arab and Druze citizens.
“Almost all of us were at a wedding in the past week and when we see it’s also not safe there it’s very worrying… we have no choice but to protest online,” Maklada told Kan news.
Maklada, who was an officer in the military’s elite 8200 intelligence unit, rejected assertions that the violence was linked to disputes between families and honor, arguing that “there is a real escalation that goes beyond Arab society, it is already harming national security.”
According to a tally by the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, 88 Arab and Druze have been killed in homicides in Israel so far this year.
This year’s homicide total is on pace to eclipse the 96 Arab Israelis recorded last year, when 96 Arab Israelis were killed in communal violence, by far the highest annual toll in recent memory.
Arab Israelis blame the police, which 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.
According to a 2020 Knesset report, some 400,000 illegal weapons are circulating in Israel, the vast majority in Arab communities.
In July, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that violence and crime in Arab Israeli communities was a “national calamity,” as he met with senior government and police officials to formulate a national plan to tackle the issue.