As violence surges in Arab community, PM says situation finally being dealt with

Bennett tells panel that ‘chronic’ problem is being addressed; after mass brawl outside hospital, Beersheba mayor says government has lost control

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a ministerial meeting in Jerusalem on November 15, 2021, to discuss violent crime in the Arab community. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a ministerial meeting in Jerusalem on November 15, 2021, to discuss violent crime in the Arab community. (Haim Zach/GPO)

With violence in the Arab community showing no signs of abating, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday that the situation was being dealt with after it had been previously ignored.

“We are properly dealing with problems that we have become used to — [the idea] that nothing could be done about them, that they are chronic — problems that are usually pushed away,” Bennett said at a meeting of a panel on violence in the Arab community.

“Crime in the Arab community, especially… quantities of illegal weapons that are enough for a small army — the arsenal that has accumulated and expanded over many years, needs to be emptied,” Bennett said.

“We are making a critical effort throughout the country against weapons and munitions,” the premier added, apparently referring to the seizure of arms and the arrest of dozens of gunrunners last in what the police have touted as the largest weapons bust in Israel’s history.

His comments came in the wake of a massive brawl between a pair of families outside of Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba on Sunday evening.

The mayor of the southern city said Monday that the government had lost control of the situation.

Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich holds a press conference at the municipality building, November 15, 2021 (Flash90)

“There is civilian terrorism taking over the country. Someone needs to come and talk to the Israeli public,” said Ruvik Danilovich at a press conference. “I expected the prime minister and public security minister [Omer Barlev] to be [in Beersheba] this morning, because a very serious incident occurred yesterday — a loss of control on the part of the State of Israel.

“The Israeli government needs to wake up because the public is losing confidence,” Danilovich said.

Four people were injured in Sunday’s brawl, during which sounds of gunfire were heard, according to witnesses and footage from the scene.

Two of the injured men — who were stabbed — were treated at the hospital with mild injuries. The pair are from the nearby Bedouin city of Rahat, according to police. Another two were being treated for mild blunt trauma injuries, the hospital said.

Eyewitnesses at the scene said dozens of young men were fighting and hurling stones, as bursts of gunfire were heard throughout the area. Police said officers arrested 19 suspects.

Earlier on Sunday, one man was killed and a second wounded when they were shot at a building site in Jerusalem’s Germany Colony neighborhood, in what police reportedly believe was a premeditated hit. Channel 12 news said that all those involved were Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

According to Channel 12, police see the incident as an escalation of the violence within the Arab community, with the shooting taking place in broad daylight in an upscale Jewish community in the west of the city.

A police officer at the scene of a shooting in Jerusalem, November 14, 2021. (Yonathan Sindel/Flash90)

Arab communities have seen a surge in violence in recent years, driven mainly by organized crime.

Leaders and community members blame police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars and violence against women.

Both government officials and civil society experts say the violence in the Arab community is the fruit of decades of state neglect.

Over half of Arab Israelis live under the poverty line. Their towns and cities often have crumbling infrastructure, poor public services and few job prospects, leading some young people to collaborate with organized crime.

In August, Bennett said that violence and crime in Arab Israeli communities was a “national calamity.”

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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