PM condemns violence in Arab Israeli community, pledges resources to fight it

Netanyahu calls on minority to cooperate with law enforcement amid protests over police inaction; Joint List leaders blame premier for failure to stem crime

Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of Likud party members at the Knesset in Jerusalem on October 3, 2019. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of Likud party members at the Knesset in Jerusalem on October 3, 2019. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the recent spate of violent crime in Arab Israeli communities on Sunday, pledging national resources and urging the minority to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to combat the phenomenon, in his first public comments since mass protests against the bloodshed and alleged police inaction began last week.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounces the murders and violence in the Arab sector,” his office said in a statement.

Netanyahu’s office said the premier had discussed the phenomenon with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Interim Police Commissioner Moti Cohen, and  they had agreed to “allocate additional manpower and increase enforcement to continue fighting the rising violence.”

Netanyahu urged Arab Israeli leaders to work with authorities and called on the minority to refrain from violence during the protests.

“All of us need to act responsibility and cooperate in order to fight violence,” he said.

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh filming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a discussion on the cameras bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police say there have been more than 70 killings in Arab communities this year, nearly as many as in each of the past two years, when Arabs, who are 20 percent of the general population, made up more than half of all murder victims nationwide. Earlier this week, two brothers and a third individual were killed in a brawl involving guns and knives, in Majd al-Krum.

Leaders of the Joint List alliance of the main Arab-majority political parties largely dismissed Netanyahu’s remarks in statements released by spokespeople minutes after the prime minister’s acknowledged the uptick.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh said the test for Netanyahu would not be in public statements on the matter, but in the immediate implementation of a government plan to combat violence.

“It cannot be that 20% of the population is forced to take drastic steps and block roads in order for the government to address the problem that has plagued the lives of innocents for so many years,” Odeh said in a statement, calling for police to treat protesters as “citizens rather than than the enemy.”

Odeh’s colleague MK Ahmad Tibi was more combative in his remarks. “Following days of silence in the face of acts of murder and protests across the country, Netanyahu remembered to put out a statement to fulfill his obligation,” he said in a statement.

Thousands of Israeli Arabs protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings within their communities, in the Arab town of Majd al-Krum, northern Israel. October 3, 2019. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

“Netanyahu as prime minister is responsible for the bloodshed,” added Tibi, while acknowledging that the premier’s statement indicated that Arab protests against violence were having an effect.

Demonstrations against against violence and murders within Arab communities have expanded in recent days throughout the country, with thousands demonstrating over the weekend.

On Friday, protesters blocked roads, including sections of major highways in the north of the country. Demonstrators carried signs, saying “Our children’s blood is not cheap,” and chanted slogans about what they say is police inaction on the issue.

The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, the umbrella body of Arab Israeli organizations, announced plans for ongoing protest actions, including a convoy of vehicles from communities in the north and south that would head toward the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

Mass protests are planned for October 21 and 27, outside police headquarters in Nazareth and Ramle, respectively. On the 27th, organizers plan to set up protest tents outside government offices in the capital.

Odeh has called on the Jewish community to join the protests, saying that a society without weapons should be the ideal for everyone.

The 13 newly elected members of the Joint List did not attend the swearing-in at the Knesset on Thursday due to the strike. The faction has made improving public safety one of its top priorities.

Arab leaders say the Israel Police largely ignore the violence in their communities, everything from family feuds and mafia turf wars to domestic violence and so-called honor killings.

The police adamantly reject the allegations of indifference and say they are doing everything they can to stem the violence. They say local leaders need to do more to cooperate with police and to prevent violence.

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