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Cabinet approves NIS 2.5 billion to fight crime in Arab community

After more than 100 Arab citizens killed in violent crime so far this year, Bennett says the Israeli Arab population ‘needs to join the fight as well’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (center) visits a police station on August 11, 2021, to announce a new national plan to tackle crime in the Arab sector. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (center) visits a police station on August 11, 2021, to announce a new national plan to tackle crime in the Arab sector. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

The cabinet passed a plan on Sunday to allocate NIS 2.5 billion ($750 million) over the next five years to fight the wave of criminal activity in Arab communities, where more than 100 people have been killed in violent crimes so far this year.

According to officials, around NIS 1.4 billion ($436.7 million) will go toward strengthening law enforcement: funding intensified operations by security agencies and building new police stations in Arab towns. Another NIS 1 billion ($312 million) will fund dozens of civilian programs designed to deal with the crime wave.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday evening that the program’s goals include disbanding the many prominent underworld organizations, boosting the sense of public security among citizens, significantly reducing the number of illegal weapons held by civilians and increasing cooperation with local authorities and trust by local civilians.

“This is not a one-sided task, and this is not just a task of the government, but this is a shared goal of the government of Israel and the Arab public,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, following the passage of the plan. “The state will do its part, but the Arab street needs to join the fight as well. It won’t be easy, but we must succeed.”

Ending the crime wave, which has claimed 104 Arab victims so far this year, consistently ranks as the number one priority for Arab Israelis in opinion polls.

“We believe that the fight against crime must rely on two elements: strengthening the police on one hand, and on the other hand, economic development, giving young people skills, and so on,” said Arab Israeli official Hassan Tawafreh, who directs a government office charged with strengthening the Arab Israeli economy, in a September phone call with The Times of Israel.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev visits a business that was a victim of protection racket, in the upper Galilee, between Rosh Pina and Kiryat Shmona, August 11, 2021. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said that the passage of the national plan makes it clear how seriously the government is about tackling the issue.

“It is clear to the entire government that the violence and crime on the Arab street poses a threat to the State of Israel,” said Barlev in a statement. “The crime families in Arab society are holding the entire Arab sector by the throat.”

In a briefing to reporters earlier on Sunday, Barlev emphasized how much the Arab criminal organizations in Israel have a stranglehold on entire communities.

“The crime organizations don’t just rule the streets,” he said, “they control bidding for public projects and have taken over hundreds of millions of shekels in public funds, they threaten some Arab mayors and have even taken over bidding on national contracts.”

The public security minister added that it was critical for mass efforts to begin immediately to tackle the problem.

“We’ve reached the 11th hour,” he said. “In 2002, Israel reached a consensus after harsh terror events to launch Operation Defensive Shield, we must also launch a mission to stop this downward spiral.”

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