4 killed, including mayoral candidate, amid spiraling gun violence in Arab community

Ghazi Sa’ab of Abu Snan is the second local politician to be killed in as many days; PM urges Shin Bet involvement, vows ‘to defeat this criminality’ amid record homicides

Main image: Police at the scene of a mass shooting in Abu Snan, August 22, 2023. Inset: One of the shooting's four victims, Ghazi Sa’ab, a candidate for the town's mayor. (Shir Torem/Flash90; Facebook; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
Main image: Police at the scene of a mass shooting in Abu Snan, August 22, 2023. Inset: One of the shooting's four victims, Ghazi Sa’ab, a candidate for the town's mayor. (Shir Torem/Flash90; Facebook; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Four people were gunned down Tuesday, one of them a mayoral candidate, in the northern town of Abu Snan, as a deadly crime surge in Arab communities continued to shatter record homicide numbers set over the past few years.

The mass shooting came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again called to involve the Shin Bet internal security agency in combating violent crime in Arab locales, following the killing of Tira’s municipal director a day earlier.

Netanyahu’s office later announced that a ministerial panel tasked with fighting against crime in the Arab community would convene Wednesday.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said paramedics declared the four dead at the scene after finding them in a field. Police announced an investigation and said officers were headed to Abu Snan to gather evidence.

One of the victims was named as Ghazi Sa’ab, who was running for mayor in the upcoming municipal elections.

Sa’ab was a former IDF officer and Border Police officer, and in recent years operated a business in Abu Snan, Haaretz reported.

The other fatalities were identified as his relatives Zohair al-Din Sa’ab and Amir Sa’ab, along with Salman Halabi of Yarca.

Druze leaders announced a strike in community institutions on Wednesday in response to the killing, and blamed the police and government for the lack of security in the north. Abu Snan has a mixed population of Muslims, Druze and Christians.

The incident was one of the deadliest acts of apparent criminal violence this year, coming over two months after five people were killed in a mass shooting at a carwash in Yafa an-Naseriyye.

Ghazi Sa’ab, who was one of four people shot dead in Abu Snan in northern Israel on August 22, 2023. Sa’ab was running for mayor in the upcoming municipal elections (Facebook; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Tuesday’s shooting was also the second to target a local Arab politician in as many days. Police denied it was linked to the October elections, describing it as crime-related.

“Today, every citizen of the Arab community in Israel lives in terrible fear, heavy grief and deep anxiety. Each of those murdered is a complete world to their family and loved ones,” President Isaac Herzog said after the quadruple homicide. “This is an emergency that requires decisive measures by the state to eradicate crime and violence and prevent the further loss of life.”

On Monday, Tira’s general-director Abdel Rahman Kashua was killed in a shooting that Netanyahu said “crossed a red line.” Two other people were lightly-to-moderately wounded in the shooting, after which Interior Minister Moshe Arbel asked Netanyahu to convene an urgent meeting with the Shin Bet and have the security service get involved in the probe and in crime-fighting more generally.

Kashua was the 11th murder victim in Tira in the past three years, Haaretz reported.

Along with Kashua, a man in his 30s was shot dead in a separate incident on Monday in the northern town of Reineh.

“We will employ all means, including the Shin Bet and police, to defeat this criminality,” the prime minister said in a video statement. “We will eliminate organized crime in Israel’s Arab society.”

“All Israeli citizens must live in safety and not under the shadow of the threat of domestic terror,” he added.

Netanyahu and far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir have previously pledged to employ the Shin Bet in the government’s crime-fighting response but have yet to do so amid pushback from the agency and leaders of Arab communities. The Shin Bet is generally tasked with fighting domestic terrorism, including in the West Bank and Gaza, and threats to state institutions.

As Kashua was a public official, the Shin Bet is involved in investigating his killing. The deputy commissioner of the Israel Police’s Central District Command, Avi Biton, said Monday the investigation was a top priority for the district “in light of the seriousness of the incident, in which a public official in a government institution was killed.”

Abed Rahman Kashua. (Tira municipality)

Also Tuesday, a man was seriously wounded after being shot in the southern Bedouin city of Rahat.

Paramedics took him to a hospital in Beersheba as police launched an investigation into the shooting.

On Tuesday night, in the Arab-Jewish city of Lod, sudden heavy gunfire sent residents into a panic. The city’s mayor, Yair Revivo, said the shots came from several family compounds and were meant to intimidate rivals as part of a dispute, and not to cause physical harm.

According to the Abraham Initiatives anti-violence advocacy group, 156 members of Israel’s Arab community have been killed since the start of the year, mostly in shootings. During the same time frame last year, 68 were killed.

The killings are part of a violent crime wave that has engulfed the Arab community in recent years. Many community leaders blame the police, whom they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence. They also point to decades of neglect and discrimination by government offices as the root cause of the problem.

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