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Ombudsman: 95% of police probes of violent crime in Arab areas yield no charges

Comptroller report lashes police for failing to crack down on illegal weapons in Arab community, as shootings and deaths surge

Israeli Arabs protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings in their communities, in the Arab town of Majd al-Krum in northen Israel on October 3, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
Israeli Arabs protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings in their communities, in the Arab town of Majd al-Krum in northen Israel on October 3, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Arab Israeli cities and towns have experienced a massive surge in violent crime in the past several years, with over 9,200 shooting incidents and nearly 100 deaths recorded in 2019, according to a state comptroller report released on Tuesday that harshly criticized police for a string of enforcement failures.

The ombudsman’s report on violent crime in the Arab Israeli community underlined that over 95 percent of police investigations have yielded no indictments, and that police efforts to collect illegal weaponry and block smuggling of firearms have failed.

According to the report, violent crime in predominantly Arab locales jumped by 19 percent in 2018 and an additional 8% in 2019. In 2019, there were 9,200 shooting incidents among Arab Israelis and 95 people died, the highest-ever toll, the report said. Between 2017 and 2019, over 15,000 people were either injured or incurred damage to their property from violent crime in these areas.

At the same time, police enforcement is lackluster, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said.

In 2017-2019, just 3%-5% of all investigations into violent crime in Arab cities saw criminal charges ultimately filed against suspects, far lower than the national average rate of indictments (15% of all investigations), according to the state comptroller.

In Ramle, hundreds demonstrate against violence in Arab Israeli communities on October 15, 2019, (Joint List)

Despite calls for police to crack down on illegal weapons in these areas, the force has failed in rounding up the firearms and in preventing the smuggling of additional illegal weapons from Jordan and the West Bank, Englman noted.

He also said that despite the opening of four new police stations in Arab communities, police manpower was not increased and officers were merely reshuffled between stations.

“The issue of crime in Arab communities has preoccupied Israel for 20 years, but despite the efforts that were made, the situation is only getting worse,” warned the state comptroller.

“Only a combined effort by the government, police and Arab leaders will reduce the surging violence in Arab society, increase personal security in its towns and improve the quality of life among Arab Israelis,” he added.

Englman urged the police and government to swiftly rectify the situation.

Organized crime is largely seen as the engine of the spread of violence in Arab cities and towns. Arab Israelis largely blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations. Ending the spread of violence and organized crime is a major priority for Arab Israelis.

In 2020, 96 Arab Israelis were killed, the highest annual toll in recent memory.

More than 90% of all shootings in Israel last year took place in Arab communities, according to police. Arab Israelis account for around one-fifth of the country’s population.

Ahead of the March elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government  approved an NIS 150 million ($45 million) crime-fighting proposal for Arab communities, including expanding police stations and creating a new dedicated unit, likening the struggle against organized crime to the fight against terrorism.

But the plan falls far short of what Arab Israeli politicians and civil society leaders publicly hoped for. A 2016 government decision on fighting organized crime in Arab society allocated around NIS 2 billion ($650 million) over four years to the issue. Arab Israelis had suggested a similar figure.

The past week has brought violence within the Arab community to the forefront of Israeli discourse, amid intense unrest and rioting throughout Israel and particularly in mixed cities in response to a military escalation in Gaza. Some attacks saw the use of live fire. In response mobs of Jewish extremists also roamed the streets and attacked Arabs and Arab property. Some cities were turned into veritable war zones, with police failing to contain the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.

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