Arab leaders start sit-in protest in Jerusalem for government action on deadly crime

Some 50 former and current Knesset members and others set up tent outside Netanyahu’s office, blame police for not doing enough to stanch violence

Arab community leaders set up a protest tent outside the Prime Minister's Office to demonstrate against deadly violence, May 29, 2023 (Screen grab via social media used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Arab community leaders set up a protest tent outside the Prime Minister's Office to demonstrate against deadly violence, May 29, 2023 (Screen grab via social media used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Elected officials and representatives of Israel’s Arab minority demonstrated in Jerusalem on Tuesday against the crime plaguing their communities, calling on the government to increase security.

Around 50 current and former members of parliament, as well as municipal representatives and Jewish supporters, gathered in a tent in front of the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a sit-in that began Monday.

“The police are complicit in the crime,” read a large banner hanging in the tent in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

Mohammed Barakeh, a former MK who heads the High Committee for the Arab Minority in Israel, a civil society group that organized the protest, told AFP it opposed the “spread of crime.”

“Hardly a day goes by without gunshots, injuries or murders,” he said. “Instead of working to develop our towns and society, we’re thinking about how to get out of our homes safely.”

Experts say Arab gangs have amassed large quantities of illegal weapons over the past two decades and are involved in drug, arms and human trafficking, prostitution, extortion and money laundering.

Mohammad Barakeh attends a press conference at the protest tent of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Arab-Israelis, descendants of Palestinians who stayed on their land after Israel’s creation in 1948 and comprise around 20 percent of the country’s population, have long complained of discrimination and police inaction against violence and crime within their communities.

Barakeh accused Israeli authorities of responsibility for the “catastrophe,” because the Arab community itself is not allowed to have “the power to arrest, prosecute or confiscate weapons.”

According to Israeli police, 84 Arabs have been killed since the start of the year. The Abraham Initiatives, which tracks violence in the Arab community, put the toll at 85.

IMAGE: In this March 13, 2021 file photo, Jewish and Arab Israelis protest in Tel Aviv against police inaction, the surging crime and violence in Arab communities. (Flash90)

“There are thousands of wounded, and nobody talks about it,” Mahmoud Nassar, a specialist in criminology at the non-governmental Center for Combating Violence and Crime, told AFP.

At a parliamentary discussion on Arab crime on Monday, Netanyahu invited the Arab lawmakers to his office for a roundtable to address the situation.

“I hear your appeal for increased police presence and more gun confiscations,” he said. “We’ll have to act on many fronts, and I want your help and cooperation.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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