A convoy of Arab Israeli protesters demanding government action to curb violence in their communities reached Jerusalem Thursday afternoon for a meeting with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and police officials.
The group, headed by politicians from the Joint List, an alliance of four predominantly Arab parties, set out from Majd al-Krum in northern Israel Thursday morning along Route 6 to the capital.
The demonstrators drove slowly on their way to the capital, causing heavy traffic on Israel’s main highways, Route 1 and 6, Channel 12 reported.
Shortly before the meeting, head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh wrote on Twitter: “We’re going into a meeting with Erdan and the police chief after 1,387 unnecessary funerals. The solutions have been on the table for years — the eradication of crime is only a matter of will.”
Protesters were also demonstrating in front of the Prime Minister’s Office, Channel 13 said.
The march came a week after the Arab Israeli community called a general strike and began holding large protests against rampant violence and the lack of law enforcement in their towns.
The protesters are “struggling for their right to live,” said MK Ahmad Tibi, No. 2 in the Joint List. “Tens of thousands that protested, especially women and youth, they are our culture. They’re asking for life instead of death. There is a small segment of our society that are criminal groups that use violence as a tool. We’re aiming at them, and want the police to handle them.”
On Thursday, Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz spoke in favor of the meeting between Arab leaders and Erdan.
“I welcome the expected meeting today between minister Erdan and MK Ayman Odeh and the leadership of the Arab public. The violence in the Arab community is a national problem – and therefore it is a challenge first and foremost for the country as well as for the Arab community itself,” Gantz wrote on Twitter.
Violence in Israel’s Arab community has killed 73 people since the beginning of the year.
The convoy was organized by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, an extra-parliamentary umbrella organization representing the Arab population of Israel.
Protests against an uptick of violence and murders within Arab communities have expanded in recent days throughout the country, with thousands demonstrating last weekend.
The meeting with Erdan comes days after the minister drew accusations of racism from Arab MKs for saying that violence in Arab Israeli communities is due to culture.
“It’s a very, very — and another thousand times — very violent society,” Erdan told Jerusalem Radio on Monday. “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.”
Erdan also said that in the Arab society, “a mother can give a son permission to murder a sister because she’s going out with a man who’s not pleasing to the family.”
Odeh responded by saying Erdan “prefers to hide behind racist claims and to throw the responsibility on the murdered.”
Following the criticism, Erdan said his words had been distorted and taken out of context.
“The main responsibility for the fight against crime and violence in Arab society is of the government and police,” he tweeted. “The Arab public is… law abiding.
Tibi, meanwhile, said that Erdan’s explanation was significant in that the minister was making it clear the violence was coming from only a small minority of the community.
“The Joint List noted that Erdan’s remarks last night were an important clarification, when he said that he didn’t mean that all of the Arab population resorts to violence — only small parts — while the overwhelming majority of the public are law abiding,” Tibi said, according to Ynet.
On Saturday night an Arab Israeli man, Bha’a Arar, 35, was shot dead in the central region Arab town of Jaljulia. Two others were also injured in the shooting. In the village of Bayada, close to Umm al-Fahm in the north, another man was shot and moderately injured.
Tens of thousands of people have held protests in Arab towns in recent days demanding police step up enforcement to make their streets safe. The demonstrations kicked off last Thursday with a general strike among the community.
Arab leaders say the Israel Police largely ignores the violence in their communities, everything from family feuds and mafia turf wars to domestic violence and so-called honor killings.
The 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.
Mass protests are planned for October 21 and 27, outside police headquarters in Nazareth and Ramle, respectively. On the 27th, organizers plan to set up protest tents outside government offices in the capital.