Arab Israeli leaders launch hunger strike over failure to curb crime

Arab Israeli leaders launch hunger strike over failure to curb crime

After two more murders within their community, bringing year’s total to 80, MKs and local leaders to take part in protest steps, including tent near PM’s office

Police on the scene of a brawl in the northern town of Tur'an, November 1, 2019. (Israel Police)
Police on the scene of a brawl in the northern town of Tur'an, November 1, 2019. (Israel Police)

Arab community leaders in Israel have announced a three-day hunger strike and will set up a protest tent near the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem in protest of the failure to adequately deal with a wave of criminal violence within the community.

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, the top representative umbrella organization for Arab Israelis, announced the steps after two members of the community were killed Friday in criminal violence, bringing the last week’s tally to four and the year’s total to 80.

“Setting up a protest tent and the hunger strike are part of a string of actions we are taking,” said its chairman, former MK Mohammad Barakeh. “Along with Knesset members and leaders of local and regional councils, we will initiate a hunger strike to focus the public and national attention on the disaster befalling the Arab population and on the free hand crime organizations are receiving to possess illegal weapons.

“We do not have policing authority and it is the responsibility of Public Security Minister [Gilad Erdan] to ensure personal and collective security,” Barakeh added.

Mohammad Barakeh in 2011, when he was a member of Knesset for the Hadash party. (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

Ahmed Dabbah, head of the Deir al-Asad Local Council and also a former lawmaker, said: “I have been warning for years of the illegal weapons. Now, Jews and Arabs alike need to join the battle against crime. I want calm in the community.”

Senior community leaders and public figures are expected to take part in the hunger strike, which takes place Sunday to Tuesday.

They include Barakeh, Joint List leader Ayman Odeh and MKs Osama Saadi, Aida Touma-Sliman, Yousef Jabareen and Jabar Asakla — who all similarly represent the Knesset alliance of four Arab and Arab-majority parties.

Tens of thousands of people have held protests in Arab towns over the past few weeks, demanding police step up enforcement to make their streets safe. The demonstrations kicked off with a general strike among the community.

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

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 Arab society.

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.

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

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.

One man was killed and at least one other injured in a brawl overnight Friday in the northern Arab Israeli village of Tur’an.

The man, Falah Dahleh, 35, a father of one, was severely injured in the incident in the lower Galilee town and declared dead at Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Tiberias.

The fight broke out between two families, police said. Members of the families threw fireworks and rocks at each other, set garbage bins on fire and fired guns in the air. Details of the investigation have been barred from publication by a court-issued gag order.

The fight was the second such altercation in the town last week. On Sunday, police said that 19 people had been arrested in the wake of a brawl in Tur’an the day before, apparently over the dismissal of the local mosque’s imam.

“There is a strong feeling here of lack of personal security,” said Tur’an resident Saeed Haddad, an expert in criminal law. “People are being murdered over trifles. Arguments that should have ended with a handshake end with gunfire. The feeling is that anything can lead to murder.”

Separately, a man was murdered early Friday in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Khawaled.

Hussein Khawaled, 47, exited his home on the way to work when he was gunned down at close range by assailants. He was taken to Rambam hospital in Haifa, where doctors declared him dead. Police began an investigation but no suspects have been arrested.

Another attempted murder happened Friday evening in the village of Basmat Tab’un. A 30-year-old local resident was shot and seriously wounded and was taken to Rambam hospital. No suspects have been arrested in that incident, either.

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

Police adamantly reject the allegations of indifference and say they are doing everything they can to stem the violence. They say local leaders need to do more to cooperate with police and to prevent violence.

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