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Man gunned down in Umm al-Fahm as Arab community passes 100 homicides for year

Public security minister says inequality and disregard for distress leading to crisis of trust

The scene where a man was shot in Umm al-Fahm, October 19, 2021 (Israel Police)
The scene where a man was shot in Umm al-Fahm, October 19, 2021 (Israel Police)

A man was shot dead in the northern town of Umm al-Fahm on Tuesday morning, just a day after Israel passed the grim landmark of 100 murders in the Arab community.

Khalil Ja’u, 25, was shot by a gunman from a passing vehicle. He was taken in critical condition to the Emek Medical Center in Afula, where he was later pronounced dead.

An investigation has been opened into the shooting, police said.

Ja’u’s brother was shot and seriously wounded in an attack four months ago; he remains hospitalized. Several members of the Ja’u extended family have been killed over the past few years as part of the ongoing violence.

With the murder rate showing no signs of slowing, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said Tuesday that “inequality and a disregard for distress” were playing key roles in the crisis of trust between the state and the Arab community.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev during a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 13, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In a speech at the Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv, Barlev used as an example the protests and rioting in some Israeli cities during the 11-day flare-up of violence between Israel and Gaza terror groups in May.

“Criminal and nationalist elements mingled and took to the streets to undermine public order. They fully exposed the severe crisis of trust that has long existed between Arab citizens of Israel and state institutions — a crisis that has grown and continues to grow against a backdrop of continuing inequality. It is urgent that it be dealt with,” he said.

“The police and the State of Israel have lost their deterrence,” Barlev said.

On Monday, 44-year-old Salim Abd al-Karim Hasarma was gunned down in the northern Arab Israeli town of Bi’na, becoming the 100th Arab murder in 2021. His brother, Ibrahim Hasarma, was killed by gunfire in December 2019.

Bi’na Mayor Ali Abu Iyad attested that the Hasarwa family had been engaged in a conflict with another local family, whom he declined to name. But he emphasized that he could not confirm whether the dispute was related to the gunfire.

Since the beginning of 2021, there have been 101 homicides in Arab communities, according to the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit. Some 86 were citizens of Israel, and another 15 were Palestinians, either from East Jerusalem or with Israeli residency.

With over two months left in the year, 2021 is on track to be the bloodiest year for the Arab community since a crime wave began there several years ago.

The murder rate has risen sharply since 2015, when 64 Arab Israelis were killed, in comparison to 38 Jewish Israelis. In 2020, Jewish Israelis saw a similar 42 homicides, while Arab Israelis saw 96 violent deaths, according to Abraham Initiatives.

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Government officials blame the violence on powerful organized crime rackets that have emerged following decades of state neglect and lawlessness in Arab cities and towns.

The violence is abetted by a tide of illegal weaponry. Hundreds of thousands of illegal guns are believed to be held in Israel, many of them in Arab communities. Police have sought to crack down on the free-flowing weapons — through gun collection programs and arms raids — but seemingly to little avail.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government has vowed to take exceptional means to end the rising murder rate. In early October, ministers signed off on involving the powerful Shin Bet security agency in the effort, in an unusual and controversial move. The agency, which has powerful legal and technological tools at its disposal, is best known for operating against Palestinian terror suspects.

“We are losing the country,” Bennett said during the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, emphasizing the dire situation among Arab Israelis.

Also on Sunday, the government advanced a controversial proposal that would expand the ability of the Israel Police to conduct searches without court warrants, in a controversial step intended to curb the crime wave.

“We’re at war. We must give the police and law enforcement agencies better tools to succeed in their missions,” Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar told the cabinet, according to his spokesperson.

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