Israel recruiting hundreds of police in fight against violence in Arab community

Amid #Arab_Lives_Matter campaign, police minister says Shin Bet will be involved in effort to root out murderers; 2021 death toll expected to be the highest for years

Israeli forensics and police officers at the scene where three men found dead at a forest in northern Israel in suspected triple murder, November 1, 2020 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Israeli forensics and police officers at the scene where three men found dead at a forest in northern Israel in suspected triple murder, November 1, 2020 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Israeli authorities are reportedly poised to immediately recruit hundreds of new police officers and involve the Shin Bet domestic security agency in the battle against crime in the Arab community, after several people were killed in recent days in a continuation of the soaring violence, sparking an online #Arab_Lives_Matter campaign.

A man in his thirties was shot dead on Tuesday in a car in the southern Negev desert, a day after two men were shot dead, one of them in the middle of a wedding. That brought the number of victims since the start of the year to 89, on course to pass last year’s already exceptionally high figure of 96 murders.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev tweeted Tuesday that after the state budget “passes in the coming weeks,” the government will step up its efforts: “1,100 police officers will be recruited and directed to this task, police stations and posts will be reinforced, [and] the Shin Bet will help.”

Channel 12 news reported Tuesday evening that Barlev has been in continuous contact with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai in recent days and that efforts were being made to find a legal formula for the involvement of the Shin Bet, which is normally involved in terror-related and counterintelligence cases.

The unsourced report said a second short-term move would be recruiting hundreds of police officers in the coming few weeks, after the government recently approved the potential recruitment of 1,100 new officers. All the new recruits will be directed toward battling crime in the Arab community.

However, the moves were expected to take months until they had a real effect on the situation.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev attends a ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem on September 5, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Social media users have begun sharing the hashtag #Arab_Lives_Matter in English, Hebrew and Arabic to protest what they say is a lack of action by police to address the violence that has reached record levels in recent years.

The hashtag became one of the most trending topics on Twitter in Israel, with one of the organizers of the protests writing that tweeting was “our only tool” to bring attention to the matter.

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Barlev blamed the problem on “decades of neglect, disregard and fear” by authorities to get involved in internal disputes in Arab society.

“Yes, #Arab_Lives_Matter matter, but whoever thinks that dozens of years of neglect will be solved in 100 days is delusional,” he wrote, in reference to the newness of the government he is a part of.

“Let’s put the cards on the table — this is not only a problem of crime families, this is a broad phenomenon that is led by extremists who have taken control of the Arab street.”

“Where were you, the leaders of the community?” he asked, while citing the large number of illegal weapons in Arab locales.

Stressing his commitment to addressing violent crime, Barlev said that catching the killers alone won’t solve the problem and noted government proposals for tackling the roots of the violence.

According to a tally by the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, 89 Arab and Druze have been killed in homicides in Israel so far in 2021.

This year’s homicide total is on pace to eclipse the toll recorded last year, when 96 Arab Israelis were killed in communal violence, by far the highest annual toll in recent memory.

Arab Israelis blame the police, which they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars and violence against women.

According to a 2020 Knesset report, some 400,000 illegal weapons are circulating in Israel, the vast majority in Arab communities.

In July, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that violence and crime in Arab Israeli communities was a “national calamity,” as he met with senior government and police officials to formulate a national plan to tackle the issue.

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