Two men gunned down hours apart as Arab crime wave death toll rises to 90 this year

Despite four-year plan to crack down on violent crime in the Arab minority, fatalities have only risen in surge of underworld violence; PM to meet Arab lawmakers Monday

Omar Awali, 21 (left), and Ahmed Hizam Sharif, 47, who were gunned down in separate shooting incidents in Arab communities, June 4, 2023. (Courtesy)
Omar Awali, 21 (left), and Ahmed Hizam Sharif, 47, who were gunned down in separate shooting incidents in Arab communities, June 4, 2023. (Courtesy)

Two men were shot dead in separate incidents hours apart in Arab communities on Sunday evening.

Unknown gunmen killed Ahmed Hizam Sharif, 47, in his car in Qalansawe, an Arab city near Kfar Saba in central Israel.

Police believe the shooting was part of a dispute between criminals, the latest case of deadly violence between rival underworld groups erupting onto Israel’s streets.

Hours earlier, Omar Awali, 21, was shot in the northern town of I’billin while at a hair salon, in another incident police believe to be part of a gang dispute.

Awali was taken by medics to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa with serious injuries, where doctors declared him dead early Monday, the hospital said in a statement.

According to the statement, relatives began to cause disturbances and to break glass after they were informed of Awali’s death.

Police intervened to restore order and arrested a suspect in the incident. Two family members were injured by glass shrapnel and were treated at the hospital.

Sharif and Awali are the 89th and 90th Arabs killed in homicides this year, according to the Abraham Initiatives, which has tracked the slayings as they have multiplied in recent years.

According to the group, 71 members of the community were killed in suspected violent circumstances in 2018. That number had risen yearly until hitting a peak of 126 in 2021 and falling slightly to 112 the next year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet Monday with lawmakers from the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al party and the Islamist Ra’am, to discuss the mounting crime wave and try to coordinate solutions.

In 2022, the murder rate among Israeli Arabs, who account for about 20 percent of the population, was more than 10 times that of Jews.

In an attempt to address this disparity, the government last year unveiled a four-year plan to combat violent crimes in the Arab community specifically. It says it carried out hundreds of arrests, cracked down on gun smuggling and submitted dozens of indictments for violence and threats.

However, these actions have seemingly had little effect on the ground and gun violence remains a major threat. According to the Abraham Initiatives, of the 89 victims, 78 were shot to death.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a rally in support of the government’s judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on June 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has vowed to advance the government anti-violence plan that his predecessor had announced. However, some in the Arab community have refused to cooperate with the far-right firebrand who has called for deporting “disloyal” Arabs.

Attempts to bolster the police by involving the Shin Bet have also encountered opposition by the chiefs of the internal security organization, who reportedly prefer to keep its focus on counterterrorism and counterintelligence.

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