The number of homicides committed in the first four months of the year was more than twice that of January-April 2022 — a sharp jump under National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who came into office in December and ran on a platform of improving citizens’ personal security.
Since the start of the year, there have been 78 homicides, compared to 34 in the same period last year, according to a tally by Haaretz.
Ben Gvir’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but unnamed police sources told the newspaper the rise in homicides was attributable to the force being tied up dealing with a wave of terror attacks and handling mass protests against the government efforts to curtail the justice system.
The sharp jump in killings, the highest number in decades, was seen in both the Jewish and Arab communities, although the numbers are far steeper in the latter. There have been 60 homicides in the Arab community compared to 26 last year; and 16 in the Jewish community compared to eight last year (the remaining two were foreign citizens). So far, 11 women have been killed, nine of them in incidents of domestic violence. Only three of the homicides in the Arab community have been solved while most of those in the Jewish community have been, excluding those tied to organized crime, Haaretz said.
“You can’t argue with the figures. This is an abject failure of the police,” a police source told Haaretz.
The deadliest month has been April with 25 people killed, 20 of whom were Arabs.
Most of those killed were figures known to police due to their ties to the criminal world, apparently indicating an increase in organized crime in the Arab community, the report assessed.
A law enforcement official also pointed to the slowing down of a program launched in 2021 to counter crime in the Arab community, saying there was now almost no cooperation from local authorities.
The law enforcement official said that during the term of previous police minister Omer Barlev, there was a high number of homicides but the rate had at least slowed due to programs he had implemented.
“There was an effort by all parties. Since Ben Gvir came in, everything was abandoned and they started speaking in slogans,” said the unnamed source.
In the Jewish community, there has been a jump in deadly violence in the central region that coincides with the recent release from prison of top underworld figures or their return from stays abroad, sparking feuds between rival crime families.
Notably, crime chief Yossi Musli was released two weeks ago and since then there have been two homicides, in Holon and Rishon Lezion, that police believe are tied to disputes between criminal organizations, the report said.
As for killings in the Arab community, an unnamed senior police official told the paper that Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai “is powerless” in the face of the phenomenon, other than to request the power to utilize administrative detentions — highly controversial arrests without charge for extended periods that are almost entirely used for terror suspects.
Ben Gvir recently called for extending the practice to violent criminals, but the police official said the issue was generally “not a priority of Ben Gvir, he doesn’t pay attention to it.”
On Sunday a former senior police commander branded Ben Gvir as unfit to oversee police, accusing the far-right lawmaker of damaging the force and causing rifts in the public.
Former Jerusalem police chief Arieh Amit told Maariv’s Radio 103FM that Ben Gvir has damaged the force and that he feels sorry for Shabtai for having to work with the minister.
Ben Gvir’s office responded that former police chiefs are upset at Ben Gvir because he is introducing changes that will end ostensible nepotism among senior ranks and a stale approach to policing.
“He is the most unfit man for the job,” Amit told the station. “A brat, a convicted felon, a supporter of terrorism, a savage who doesn’t understand anything about police and security, and is brutally preventing the police from working.”
Amit was referring to Ben Gvir’s past far-right activities, which saw him convicted on terror offenses because of his support for a banned Jewish terror group.
Ben Gvir, he continued, is badly damaging the police and leaving the force “weakened and diminished.”
“We are in a state of unprecedented deterioration,” said Amit, who was Jerusalem police commander in 1994-1997.
Amit accused the government of causing “a crazy situation” with its planned drastic overhaul of the judiciary and of creating “a situation on the streets of enormous tension, great irritation and of great fear between people.”
The contentious efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to increase its own power by sapping the judiciary of its authority and independence have drawn mass protests for months. Ben Gvir has directly involved himself in how police respond to some of the protests, and in particular, riot dispersal means. Critics say the overhaul will reduce Israel’s democratic nature while supporters say it is needed to rein in an overreaching judiciary.
Though admitting he has “a lot of criticism” of police chief Shabtai, Amit said he also “feels sorry for him.”
“He is in a situation in which he constantly has to fight against Ben Gvir,” he said “You can say all kinds of things about him, but he is a professional, and Ben Gvir prevents him from working professionally.”
Ben Gvir’s office responded to the remarks in a statement, saying the minister has “brought with him a systematic plan that includes, among other things, the establishment of a national guard, raising salaries for police officers up to the rank of inspector, a budget of nine billion shekels, additional employment positions, and an end to the culture of friends appointing each other.
“This policy is particularly irritating for the ‘former commissioners’ who for many years controlled and ruined the police and the state of national security.”
Ben Gvir, who leads the Otzma Yehudit party, is seeking to establish a National Guard of volunteers that could potentially be placed directly under his control and separate from the police. Though supporting the idea of a National Guard, Shabtai has spoken out against keeping it separate from the police force.
In the leadup to the November 1 election, Ben Gvir campaigned with a tough-on-crime and tough-on-terror message. His promises resonated with Israelis concerned by a weakened sense of security in the midst of a lingering terror wave and frustrated by under-policing in crime-ridden areas.