Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday said that violence and crime in Arab Israeli communities was a “national calamity,” as he met with senior government and police officials to formulate a national plan to tackle the issue.
The plan will be released soon, a statement from Bennett’s office said. Bennett announced his intention to formulate a national plan last month.
The Islamist Ra’am Party, which joined Bennett’s government coalition, ran on a platform of tackling violence in Israel’s Arab communities and the party has said it secured the promise of large-scale funding for the issue as part of the coalition agreement.
“The violence in the Arab community is a national calamity that has been neglected for many years,” Bennett said according to the statement.
Arab cities and towns have seen a surge in violence in recent years, with organized crime seen as the main driver. Arab Israelis blame police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars, and violence against women.
Some 49 Arab Israelis have been killed in homicides since the beginning of 2021, according to the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit organization. In 2020, 96 Arab Israelis were killed, by far the highest annual toll in recent memory.
More than 90 percent of shootings in Israel last year took place in Arab communities, according to police, though Arab Israelis account for only around one-fifth of the country’s population.
“The crime occurs on a daily basis and fear rules the streets. It is the responsibility of the government to fight and deal with the phenomenon and it is a national mission,” Bennett said at the meeting.
“We must deal with this issue in all its aspects — criminal, civil, and economic. The Arab public itself is crying out for help and this is in the national interest,” he added.
The meeting was attended by the ministers of public security, justice, the interior, and labor and welfare, as well as the police commissioner, the government secretary, the director general of the Defense Ministry, and other professionals.
“Today we are advancing another step in our plan to curb the violence in the Arab streets,” Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said according to the readout. “Without comprehensive treatment of the root problems, in addition to strengthening governance and the rule of law, we will not be able to influence these issues,” he added.