Around 100 cars blocked one of Israel’s main thoroughfares on Monday morning as Arab Israelis protested what they alleged was government inaction in the face of violence and organized crime in their cities and towns.
“We cannot stay idly by as long as blood continues to be shed in our communities,” said Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen.
According to the Abraham Initiatives, a record 95 Arab Israelis have been killed since the beginning of the year, the highest in decades. The number of murders has been steadily increasing, having totaled 89 in 2019 and 75 in 2018.
The convoy blocked traffic for about an hour on Route 6, close to the Baka-Jatt Junction, before proceeding toward Jerusalem, where the demonstrators are scheduled to gather in front of the Knesset.
Many Arab Israelis blame the crisis on police inaction, saying that police do not enforce the law in their cities and towns. The absence of the rule of law, Arab lawmakers allege, has enabled illegal weaponry, protection rackets and organized crime organizations to spread freely in Arab communities.
“Even though we registered record murder levels, what we’re talking about here goes beyond murders. Murders are just one parameter in the violence: attempts to gun down mayors, threats, extortion, blackmail, domestic violence, use of weapons in disputes,” Joint List MK Mansour Abbas said in a phone call.
Senior police officials explain the disproportionate level of violence and crime by what they call Arab Israelis’ unwillingness to cooperate with their investigations. Some have also suggested that Arab culture plays a role in the violence.
“We need to talk about culture… Arab society, what is [violence’s] place and its responsibility in relation to this area, the culture within Arab society?” acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen asked rhetorically.
“It’s a very, very — and another thousand times — very violent society,” former public security minister Gilad Erdan told Jerusalem Radio in 2019. “It’s connected to the culture there. A lot of disputes that end here with a lawsuit, there they pull out a knife and gun.”
Monday’s protest convoy was an attempt by Arab lawmakers to repeat the success of last October’s demonstrations calling for government action to combat the spread of violence in Arab communities.
At the time, thousands of Arab Israelis marched against violence and organized crime in Arab cities and towns. The repeated marches, strikes and demonstrations helped lead to a government decision to produce a plan to counter violence in Arab cities and towns within 90 days.
But the wide-ranging government plan subsequently produced by the Prime Minister’s Office to fight the causes of violence in Arab communities has yet to be formally approved and funded. Similar efforts — such as a government plan to fight domestic violence — have occasionally sat for years without ever receiving the funding to go into effect.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised in a Knesset parliamentary session in early November that he would bring the plan to approval within two weeks. As the prospect of fourth elections has gripped Israel in recent days, however, the plan has seemingly been shelved for the time being.
“We cannot fight organized crime with empty promises from Netanyahu — instead, we will engage in a civil struggle on every road in the land. We will force the government to put an end to the criminal neglect of Arab society,” Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said in a tweet Monday.
Odeh has also put forward a bill in the Knesset that would drastically increase the sentencing requirements for illegal arms possession. Some criminologists have been critical of the proposal, however, which they allege could be far too severe.
“We demand to live in a society without weapons,” Odeh said.
Jamil Basul, mayor of Al-Reineh, a small town in the Galilee that has seen three murders in the past month, hailed the convoy — but said he anticipated little hope for its success.
“The government will talk, and they’ll talk, and they won’t do anything,” Basul told The Times of Israel. “While these criminal organizations are all across the country.”
“I’ve asked the police to send patrols to enter the neighborhood, but they don’t really show up, or only glancingly,” Basul lamented.
But in neighboring Jewish-majority Nof Hagalil, he claimed, “you can see police patrols all the time.”