Arab Israeli protesters were participating in a convoy Thursday that was set to travel from the north of the country to Jerusalem, as part of their ongoing demonstrations demanding that the government do more to curb violence within their communities.
The convoy was to travel from Majd al-Krum along Route 6 to the capital, ending in the government quarter, where a rally will be held. Later, leaders of an alliance of four predominantly Arab parties, the Joint List, are set to meet with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and acting Israel Police chief Motti Cohen to lay out their demands for government efforts to counter the violence, which has killed 73 people since the beginning of the year.
Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh posted a video of himself standing within the convoy on Route 6 and explained that in the meeting with Erdan and senior police officials, he will present the “justified demands of the Arab population, with tens of thousands of demonstrators behind us.”
“We are demanding that prison sentences and heavy fines for any citizen who is in possession of illegal firearms be anchored in law, and that the heads of organized crime gangs be put on trial,” he said.
“We will be campaigning for the most basic right of every citizen, the right to life and security,” Odeh said.
Joint List party members reportedly threatened that the convoy will deliberately block Route 6, a key artery connecting the north and south of the country, and also other roads.
Extra police were to be deployed along the route and other highways to tackle expected traffic problems caused by the convoy, which 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 residents’ 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 Arab society, “a mother can give a son permission to murder the 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.”
MK Ahmad Tibi, No. 2 in the Joint List, said Thursday that Erdan’s explanation was significant in that the minister was making it clear that 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.