Strike called in Arab towns as another crime killing lifts day’s death toll to 6

Ben Gvir visits Yafa an-Naseriyye after 5 killed in mass shooting, as criticism intensifies over government’s failure to address massive spike in murders

Police at the scene where five people were shot dead in the town of Yafa an-Naseriyye, June 8, 2023. (Fadi Amun/Flash90)
Police at the scene where five people were shot dead in the town of Yafa an-Naseriyye, June 8, 2023. (Fadi Amun/Flash90)

A general strike will be held Friday in the Arab community in protest of a deadly mass shooting in the northern town of Yafa an-Naseriyye, the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel umbrella group announced, as more apparent criminal violence claimed a sixth victim in under a day.

The committee called for protests to be held over the weekend after five people were shot dead at a carwash in the town near Nazareth, the country’s most deadly crime incident since 2009.

The group also voiced support for the call within the government to involve the Shin Bet security agency in the fight against violent organized crime in the Arab Israeli community, which has claimed 98 lives so far this year.

The latest fatality was a man killed on Thursday evening in a reported drive-by shooting near the central city of Kafr Qasim. The Magen David Adom ambulance service said the man, aged about 30, was declared dead with gunshot wounds, while another man was moderately injured from the gunfire.

The shooting caused the car to crash, also injuring a 46-year-old woman who was in the car, MDA said. The two injured people were taken to Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba.

Police said they were investigating the shooting and that officers were searching for suspects and gathering evidence.

Along with the two deadly incidents on Thursday, a 3-year-old girl and her father were seriously hurt after being struck by gunfire in Kafr Kanna, which like Yafa an-Naseriyye is near Nazareth.

The victims of the Yafa an-Naseriyye shooting were named by Hebrew media as Naeem Marjiyeh, Abu al-Naeem Marjiyeh, Eiliya Marjiyeh, Luai Ragheb and Ibraheem Shehadeh. Further details were not immediately available.

Some Hebrew media outlets reported that police believe the shooting was part of a conflict between the Bakri and Hariri local crime organizations, which has now claimed over 25 lives in less than two years.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the scene of the shooting in Yafa an-Naseriyye, as opposition politicians railed at his handling of an ongoing wave of violent crime in the Arab community which he promised before the elections to solve.

Speaking to reporters, Ben Gvir said he “shares the grief” of the bereaved families and wished a speedy recovery to the injured, including the man and child in Kafr Kanna.

“There has been a wild west in the Arab community for the past few years,” Ben Gvir said, adding that he and his staff were “working hard” to tackle the “root problems” but that there are obstacles.

He touted two solutions, the first of which is establishing a national guard under his ministry, a move that has been decried by critics as potentially handing the far-right politician a “private militia” and has been slowed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ben Gvir said such a force is “so important,” expressing hope that it will start acting soon.

His second, more immediate solution involved using the Shin Bet security agency in tackling the crime organizations, which Netanyahu said earlier Thursday he will do.

Ben Gvir demanded passing a cabinet resolution to involve the Shin Bet as early as this coming Sunday.

“With God’s help, we will do it,” he said.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene where five people were shot dead in the town of Yafa an-Naseriyye, June 8, 2023. (Fadi Amun/Flash90)

Several coalition members including Ben Gvir have pushed for the Shin Bet’s involvement in combating crime, particularly in Arab communities where deadly violence has claimed many lives in recent years.

The Shin Bet is generally tasked only with fighting nationalistically motivated terror threats and many Arab leaders oppose the agency’s involvement in non-terror-related matters.

Senior officials in the Shin Bet are reportedly also strongly opposed to the agency’s involvement in the fight against criminal organizations, worrying that it might not even be legal to employ the tools it uses in the fight against Palestinian terror on civilians and that it could be harmful to do so.

Meanwhile, the leader of the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al opposition party launched an attack on the government, saying the blood spilled in Thursday’s “shocking massacre” was on the hands of Netanyahu and Ben Gvir.

In a statement, MK Ayman Odeh said Arab community leaders “have for years been calling for getting the weapons off the streets and for cracking down on crime organizations.”

He urged the government to “immediately fire” Ben Gvir, echoing calls from other government critics.

“We won’t accept this negligence. We will cause the whole country to strike until this stops,” he added.

Ra’am chief MK Mansour Abbas, who unlike Odeh was part of the previous coalition, said it was “a difficult day in Arab society” and that “murder has become a routine.”

“We’re in a catastrophe,” Abbas told Channel 12.

He added that there have been calls for two years to involve the Shin Bet “and it hasn’t solved the problem,” and called to give the police “new tools.” He also urged police to do a massive roundup of Arab crime bosses.

Leader of the Ra’am party Mansour Abbas, left; leader of Hadash-Ta’al Ayman Odeh, right. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File); (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Police, politicians and community leaders have struggled over the past several years to rein in criminal activity driving the spiking violence, which has appeared to ramp up in recent months.

Many community leaders blame the 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. The communities have also suffered from years of neglect by state authorities.

The head of a police unit tasked with fighting crime among Arab Israelis, Deputy Commissioner Natan Bozna, resigned on Tuesday. No reason for the departure was given by Bozna or the force, and police did not announce a replacement.

The announcement came a day after Ben Gvir said he would appoint a policy coordinator to help address the rampant bloodshed.

Also on Monday, MKs from the majority-Arab Hadash-Ta’al party met with Netanyahu to discuss the problem and demand urgent action to combat the crime wave.

The sides agreed with Netanyahu on forming a committee for fighting violence in the Arab community that the prime minister himself will head, Netanyahu’s office said.

Analysts say the killings have been driven by underworld violence fueled by powerful gangs engaged in extortion, loan sharking, protection rackets and other criminal activities.

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