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Former mayor seriously injured amid spate of shootings among Arab Israelis

Umm al-Fahm residents protest outside police station after shooting of Suleiman Aghbariah, a well-known Arab Islamist politician; ‘We’re living in a civil war,’ MK laments

Suleiman Aghbariyah, former mayor of Umm al-Fahm (screenshot)
Suleiman Aghbariyah, former mayor of Umm al-Fahm (screenshot)

In the latest in a string of shootings in Arab Israeli communities, former Umm al-Fahm mayor Suleiman Aghbariah was seriously injured on Thursday night by armed assailants.

Aghbariah is a well-known figure in Arab Israeli politics. He not only served as mayor of a major Arab Israeli city in central Israel, but was also a senior leader in the Northern Islamic Movement until it was banned in 2015.

“No one is immune anymore to the murderous violence and the weapons flooding Arab society. This is an emergency. We’re living in a civil war,” tweeted Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen, an Umm al-Fahm resident who lives close to the site of the shooting.

In response to the shooting, dozens of Umm al-Fahm residents protested in front of the local police station.

“People don’t feel safe. We’re asking two things of the police — to prevent crime and to track down criminals. But they’re not able or willing to do either,” Umm al-Fahm Mayor Samir Sohbi Mahameed said in a phone call.

The Israel Police was investigating the case, and had yet to announce any arrests.

“There is no Arab citizen who is not exposed to the fatal threat posed by organized crime. The criminal indifference of the government is what allows them to destroy our society,” said Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh.

Demonstrators gather in Kafr Qara following the funeral of homicide victim Suleiman Masarwah, 25, on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 (courtesy)

Three Arab Israelis have already been killed in homicides since the beginning of the year; another three homicides took place in East Jerusalem. In 2020, 96 Arab Israelis were violently killed, by far the highest annual toll in recent memory.

Many Arab Israelis blame the police for the rise in organized crime in their communities, charging that cops fail to enforce the rule of law in their cities and towns. Numbers submitted to a Knesset committee on ending crime and violence in Arab Israeli society estimate that 400,000 illegal weapons are present among the community.

Ending the spread of violence and organized crime is a major priority for Arab Israelis. In a recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute, around 52% of Arab Israelis named it as the most pressing concern facing their community; no other issue even came close.

A wide-ranging government plan produced by the Prime Minister’s Office to fight the causes of violence in Arab communities has yet to be formally approved and funded. Similar efforts — such as a government plan to fight domestic violence — have occasionally sat for years without ever receiving the funding to go into effect.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised in a Knesset parliamentary session in early November that he would bring the plan to approval within two weeks. As Israel heads towards its fourth elections in less than two years, however, the plan has seemingly been shelved for the time being.

“There was a meeting last month with the team responsible for the plan. But it’s clear that the violence and insecurity in the Arab community is simply not a priority right now. It’s the government’s job to invest, to put in the money and make a decision to fight this. But there’s no decision,” said Wadi Ara’ara council head Mudar Younes, who chairs a national committee of Arab mayors.

“We can’t wait for after the elections, the way things are going,” said Younes.

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