At a ministerial meeting on Sunday to address the epidemic of violent crime in Israel’s Arab communities, government ministers decided to involve the military and Shin Bet security service in a crackdown on illegal weapons.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that the situation must be immediately addressed.
“The situation regarding violence in the Arab sector has reached a red line,” Bennett told the gathering at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “The problem was pushed aside and neglected for years until it reached outrageous proportions, as we have seen over the past year.”
“Our government is taking the issue very seriously,” Bennett said, noting the establishment of an “inter-ministerial working team” headed by Yoav Segalovitz, the deputy public security minister and a retired police major-general.
In addition to the establishment of the task force, the prime minister’s office issued a series of decisions made at the conclusion of the meeting on Sunday afternoon.
The task force led by Segalovitz will focus — in conjunction with the IDF and the Shin Bet — on the issue of illegal weapons in the Arab sector, said the prime minister’s office. The Justice Ministry will promote a series of laws to provide law enforcement with greater tools to crack down on illegal weapons, including minimum sentences for infractions.
However following the prime minister’s office announcement, IDF officials expressed concern that they were not involved in the decision making — and do not have the relevant legal status to operate in civilian areas. “Nobody spoke with anyone or consulted with the IDF of the Defense Ministry,” an official at the meeting told Channel 12 news. “IDF soldiers do not have the powers that police officers do in arrests and raids.”
Arab Israeli politicians criticized the decision, calling it undemocratic.
“Fight criminals, not democracy. The sole responsibility for law enforcement among civilians is the police, not intelligence agencies and the military…The last thing we need is more of the same attitude: police for Jews and Shin Bet for Arabs,” Joint List chief Ayman Odeh said in a tweet.
Odeh’s colleague Sami Abou Shehadah from the hardline nationalist Balad party said the move proved that “the State of Israel deals with Arab citizens as a security threat, not as civilians.”
Bennett convened the meeting, which included a range of top law enforcement officials — including the justice, public security and interior ministers, the attorney general and the future head of the Shin Bet — as a wave of violence was engulfing many of Israel’s Arab communities. According to The Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, 95 Arabs have been killed so far in violent crimes this year inside Israel.
On Friday, an Arab Israeli man, believed to be linked to organized crime, was shot dead in Haifa. Last Friday, a man also said to be connected to the underworld was shot dead in Nazareth. A day later, a 30-year-old Arab Israeli man was shot dead in Beersheba.
Over the past few years, Arab Israelis have seen sharply rising violence: gang assassinations in broad daylight, gunfire at the homes of local mayors, and thousands of illegal, easily accessible guns.
Both government officials and civil society experts say the violence 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 young people to collaborate with organized crime for a quick buck.
Bennett called on members of the Arab Israeli community to cooperate with law enforcement efforts, calling specifically on “elected representatives, Arab public figures, media personalities from the Arab sector and others” to voice public support. “The entire Arab public needs to stand behind the state,” he said.
The prime minister said the government is “mobilizing to protect Arab citizens from the blight of crime and illegal weapons, and from murder and protection rackets,” an effort that will “take considerable time, effort and resources.”
During that time, Bennett said, “the Arab public must understand that the security forces are not the enemy — they are the solution,” calling on them to “cooperate fully in the war against crime and violence in the Arab sector.”
Bennett said that over the past few years a “state within a state” had developed in Israel, and it would take considerable time to fully tackle the issue. “Dealing with this magnitude will not take a day or two but we are on it,” he said. “We are taking action and will continue to do so.”