The Israel Police on Saturday uncovered a stash of thousands of bullets during searches in the northern village of Ara, and detained 13 suspects, as authorities ramped up operations against organized crime and widespread killings in the country’s Arab community.
According to Channel 12, a canine unit moved through towns in the Wadi Ara region, seeking guns, ammunition and other weaponry amid a public outcry by the Arab community over the epidemic of violent crime. Officials said officers in Ara found thousands of bullets as well as other weaponry.
Wadi Ara is a valley adjacent to the northern West Bank, southeast of Haifa, which is home to many Arab villages and towns, including Umm al-Fahm, Ara, Baqa al-Gharbiyye and Kafr Qara.
Police told Israel’s Channel 12 in a statement that they were “focusing enforcement activity against possession and use of illegal weaponry, as part of the fight against serious violence in the Arab community and for the security of the normative public.”
The operation came hours following the latest murder to hit the Arab community, after a 21-year-old was shot dead in Ara overnight Friday, possibly due to a family feud. He was the 74th Arab murder victim since the start of the year. Local leaders on Saturday held an emergency meeting, where they called for police intervention and warned of potential further attacks following his murder.
The victim was identified as Mohammed Hamdan. Israel’s Channel 13 said his father Adnan told local leaders he would forgive the killer “if the blood of my son benefits a mending of our society.”
“Enough,” he said, in a call to the Arab public. “It’s time to stop what is happening.”
Three other Arab men were shot and injured in separate incidents overnight: a 40-year-old, Sheikj Ali al-Danaf, was shot and seriously wounded in the Jewish-Arab town of Ramle in central Israel; a man in his 20s was shot and seriously injured in Haifa; and in the Bedouin town of Rahat, in the south, a city engineer, in his 50s, was shot and moderately injured.
Al-Danaf is the head of the Islamic Movement in Ramle, and earlier Friday had held a sermon calling for action and protests against organized crime. His car was hit by seven bullets in what Channel 13 said was an attempted murder close to the mosque where he prays.
The Arab community has in recent weeks held strikes and large protests against rampant violence and the lack of law enforcement in their towns. Arab leaders say the Israel Police largely ignores the violence in their communities, everything from family feuds and mafia turf wars to domestic violence and so-called honor killings.
On Thursday, Arab politicians led a protest convoy of vehicles from Majd al-Krum in northern Israel along Route 6 to the capital, where they met with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and interim Police Commissioner Motti Cohen to demand increased enforcement.
Erdan vowed to allocate 600 officers to handle violent crime, as well as focus resources on investigating organized crime.
After the talks in Jerusalem, Joint List party chief Ayman Odeh said it was “an important meeting, but our main demand is a government decision and a wide-ranging plan to eradicate violence and crime in the Arab society… the talks will continue and the struggle will go on.”
The Joint List’s MK Ahmad Tibi said Erdan agreed there was a need for a government decision and that he would seek to promote such action, but noted this would have budgetary requirements.
In an evening interview with Channel 13, Erdan admitted that for years “No police stations were established and no policemen allocated” to handle the Arab communities. He claimed that since entering office he had placed the issue “at the top of the agenda,” but said he was “frustrated that we did not meet with cooperation and the lack of trust continued.”
Erdan also complained that many carry illegal weaponry and that “judges in Israel do not give long enough sentences to those caught with illegal weapons, and it’s difficult to deter crime organizations in this manner.”
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.