Killings drop in Arab Israeli communities after October 7, but for how long?

Increased police presence and wartime zero-tolerance policy for breaching social order are the most likely factors behind the drop in gang killings — which may only be temporary

Gianluca Pacchiani

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Mourners attend the funeral for five members of the same family who were shot to death in the northern Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un, September 29, 2023. (Flash90)
Mourners attend the funeral for five members of the same family who were shot to death in the northern Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un, September 29, 2023. (Flash90)

The year 2023 has been a tragically bloody one for Arab society in Israel, plagued by an unprecedented and seemingly incessant wave of violent crime that has so far claimed 216 lives.

On an almost daily basis, Arab Israeli communities witnessed their members being murdered as criminal gangs fought for control over territory, eliminated business owners who refused to pay protection money, or settled scores with one other. Families were gunned down in revenge attacks, while government authorities seemed impotent and unable to offer protection to a group of people constituting over 20 percent of the Israeli population.

However, following the shocking onslaught by Hamas on October 7, in which 1,200 people were slaughtered in southern Israel, and the ensuing war waged by the IDF against the terror group in Gaza, there has been a notable drop in homicides in Arab Israeli society.

According to the anti-violence advocacy group Abraham Initiatives, 198 Arabs were killed in Israel from the beginning of 2023 to October 7, on average over 22 per month. In the month and a half that has elapsed after October 7, 18 died in incidents of violent crime – a 54% decrease on a monthly basis.

Yoni Arie works at the Abraham Initiatives as director of the Safe Communities project, which focuses on relations between Arab Israelis and the police with the objective of eradicate crime from their communities. In an interview, Arie noted that 27 Arab Israelis had died as a result of a violent crime in the 30 days prior to October 7, while in the 30 days after October 7, the toll stood at 13.

The sharp decrease does not seem to be a coincidence. “Periods of security crises, such as war, are accompanied by a drop in crime rates, at least in the short term,” said Prof. Badi Hasisi, a criminologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Activists march with symbolic coffins denouncing violent crime in Arab communities on August 6, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (Jack Guez/AFP)

A similar pattern was observed during the Second Intifada. Hasisi co-authored a study showing that a higher number of cases were cleared (i.e., one or more suspects were found) in the 2000-2004 period in Arab communities due to increased surveillance. At the same time, police performance went down in predominantly Jewish communities, as security forces focused on countering the terrorist threat.

Now, as then, “the decrease in violence in Arab society in Israel today is probably combined with a perception of greater deterrence by the police, meaning criminals are more afraid of being caught,” Hasisi said.

“There is a feeling that security forces are everywhere, and criminals feel less safe to walk around. They also realize that the police are enforcing a zero-tolerance policy, meaning that the slightest suspicion of a security incident will likely lead to a violent response from security forces — and this is a deterrent factor.”

Arie from the Abraham Initiatives concurred. “Organized gangs are responsible for the vast majority of the crimes and the violence in Arab society,” he explained.

Yoni Arie, Safe Communities director at the Abraham Initiatives watchdog group, Jerusalem 2021 (courtesy)

“The police presence on the streets has increased significantly, particularly in Arab towns, so criminals feel less nonchalant when carrying weapons and committing illegal activities.

“Because of the war and the emergency situation, they are afraid that the police will be quicker on the draw,” he added. “Killings among crime families as a result of feuds have also decreased.

“The whole country, Jews and Arabs alike, has been in a state of shock after October 7. But criminals are only after the money, they are conducting a business, so to speak. Right now, they are probably adjusting to the new reality,” Arie said.

Citing anecdotal evidence of stores being burned down by gangs and other acts of intimidation and violence carried out after October 7, he noted that organized crime has not come to a complete stop. “Not everything is fine now, but the data indicate a clear difference between before and after October 7,” Arie said.

Criminologist Hasisi noted that there are, however, signs that things may be going back to the way they were before the war, as there has been an uptick in the number of shootings and killings over the past two weeks.

“Experts do not know how the situation will return to what it was before October 7, but everyone agrees it will,” Arie said. “I personally think there will be a gradual increase in violent crime, others think it will bounce back at once. It’s hard to predict.”

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