Bearing 140 coffins, protesters accuse cops of not tackling murders in Arab towns

Some 5,000 participants rally in Tel Aviv while carrying ‘caskets’ representing those killed since beginning of the year, accusing officials of ignoring Arab-on-Arab crime

Activists march with symbolic coffins denouncing the violent crimes against Arab communities on August 6, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Activists march with symbolic coffins denouncing the violent crimes against Arab communities on August 6, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Thousands of people gathered in central Tel Aviv Sunday evening to call on the government to do more to curb soaring criminal violence in Arab communities, which has claimed 140 lives this year.

Over 30 organizations participated in the march, including a number of groups that have led protests against the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Participants marched from Habima Square to the Tel Aviv Museum bearing symbolic coffins and holding signs accusing the government of paying lip service rather than tackling crime.

“I blame the government, the police, and all security institutions,” said Badiah Khnifes, whose daughter Johara was killed in a 2022 car bombing in Shrafam.

The slaying remains unsolved, she told the crowd. “To Netanyahu I say, look me in the eyes: How can it be that the state, with all its institutions, cannot solve the murder of our children?”

Several MKs joined the demonstration, which numbered some 5,000 people according to Ynet, including from Arab-majority Ra’am and Hadash-Tal, as well as Labor and Meretz lawmakers.

Participants walked behind demonstrators carrying 140 coffins, marking the number of those killed in homicides in the Arab community since the start of 2023, a number that has far outpaced the murder rate in previous years. The coffins were decorated with slogans describing what each victim might have become had they not been killed.

Many protesters also dressed in white to commemorate the victims.

Members of the Arab community holding hundreds of symbolic coffins as they protest against the violence in their community, at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on August 6, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israeli authorities have largely failed to stem the wave of violent crime engulfing the Arab community in Israel in recent years, with many accusing police of largely ignoring the violence. Experts say the wave has been largely fueled by organized criminal groups, and sustained by decades of official neglect and discrimination by the state.

The anti-violence Abraham Initiatives watchdog group said that since the beginning of the year, at least 140 members of the Arab community have been killed in violent circumstances — more than during the entirety of 2022.

During the same period last year, there were 66 deaths, the organization noted.

Protest organizer Saliman Al-Amar, CEO of AJEEC-NISPED, an Arab-Jewish social rights group, told Haaretz the purpose of the demonstration was “to bring the suffering of Arab society to the people sitting in cafes in Tel Aviv” and that “the government is abandoning us.”

“This is the responsibility of the government and also the responsibility of all of us. We wanted the protesters not to sink into despair,” he said.

Activists march with symbolic coffins denouncing the violent crimes against Arab communities on August 6, 2023 in Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Even as the number of killings in the Arab community has skyrocketed in recent years, among Jews it has remained steady at around two dozen killings a year.

Ta’al party chairman Ahmad Tibi, speaking at the protest, said police were capable of cracking down on crime, but unwilling to do so for Arabs.

“When it wants to, it succeeds in Netanya, Nahariya, and Tel Aviv in defeating crime,” he said, charging that the government is unmoved by Arab-on-Arab crime.

MK Ahmad Tibi speaks in the Knesset plenum on November 6, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who campaigned on promises to beef up public safety and whose ministry oversees the police, has largely stayed quiet on the soaring crimewave, despite his ministry overseeing the police.

He did not comment on the protest, but earlier in the day crowed on Twitter that his goal was for more people to be able to defend themselves on the street,” noting his efforts to put more guns in civilian hands. Gun ownership in Israel is tightly controlled and off limits to most non-Jews who did not serve in the military.

Bian Issa, a 19-year-old from Kafr Qasem, said she felt she needed to participate at the demonstration, along with others her age.

“I have a responsibility as part of the young generation that needs to get together to shout ‘enough,'” she told Ynet. “We want to live like other young people and think about our future.”

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