Thousands of Arab Israelis held protests Friday at the conclusion of prayers, a day after a general strike over a wave of deadly violence within the minority community.
Protesters blocked roads, including sections of the major highways in the north of the country. Demonstrators carried signs with slogans such as “our children’s blood is not cheap” and chanted slogans about what they say is police inaction on the issue.
Ayman Odeh, the head of the Knesset’s predominantly Arab Joint List faction, called on the Jewish community to join the protests, saying that a society without weapons should be the ideal for everyone.
“I also urge the Jewish public to join the protests. A society without firearms is a civil and social aim for us all,” Odeh tweeted.
MK Yousuf Jabareen of the Joint List, who joined protesters blocking a highway in the north of the country, said that the protests will continue until tangible action is taken on the issue.
“More than a thousand protesters blocked the Wadi Ara road in protest of the rising violence and crime in Arab society and the outrage of law enforcement agencies,” he told the Walla news site. “We will continue to step up our public struggle and further intensify our steps in the coming weeks until we feel a change on the ground.”
The 13 newly elected members of the Joint List did not attend the swearing-in at the Knesset on Thursday because they were taking part in the strike. The faction has made improving public safety one of its top priorities.
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.
ממשיכים להציף את הרחובות ואני קורא גם לציבור היהודי להצטרף למחאות. חברה ללא נשק היא יעד אזרחי וחברתי של כולנו! pic.twitter.com/PfkzR0p3es
— Ayman Odeh (@AyOdeh) October 4, 2019
Arab leaders say Israeli police largely ignore the violence in their communities, everything from family feuds and mafia turf wars to domestic violence and so-called honor killings.
Israel’s Arab citizens are descendants of Palestinians who remained in the state after its creation in 1948. They have the right to vote but many say they suffer discrimination and that authorities treat them like second-class citizens.
The police adamantly reject the allegations of indifference and say they are doing everything they can to stem the violence.
“Police are continuing to speak to the leaders of the communities in order to try and prevent the incidents from taking place, but at the same time they are also working inside the communities, patrolling more,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
He said seven new police stations have been opened in Arab communities this year and there are plans to open eight more in the coming months. This year alone, police have confiscated 4,000 weapons and arrested some 2,800 people on weapons-related charges, according to Rosenfeld.
But he said local leaders need to do more to cooperate with police and to prevent violence.
“It has to come also from inside the community,” he said. “They can’t just, you know, decide at a wedding to open fire and shoot in the air. These are basic issues that have to be dealt with by the leaders of the communities.”
Schools and businesses in Arab towns and villages were closed Thursday following a call by local and national Arab leaders, and newly elected Arab lawmakers of the Knesset skipped the official swearing-in out of solidarity.
Some 20,000 people joined a rally in the northern town of Majd al-Krum Thursday evening at the height of the protests.
On Wednesday thousands attended the funeral of the two brothers killed in Majd al-Krum. At the conclusion of the funeral, hundreds demonstrated outside the town’s police station, demanding action over the ongoing violence in the Arab community.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Wednesday he would hold an emergency meeting with police leaders.
“The level of violence and crime in Arab communities requires a determined fight with every tool at the state’s disposal,” Erdan, whose ministry oversees police, said in a statement.
“A state of emergency needs to be declared,” he added.
Channel 13 news reported Wednesday that police presence will be beefed up in Arab towns with a higher than average level of violence, including the cities of Nazareth, Acre and Umm al-Fahm.
AP contributed to this report.