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Northern police chief says area is ‘at war’ with ongoing Arab communal violence

Shimon Lavi says Arabs in north responsible for ‘99% of murders’; public security minister blames rising crime on lengthy ‘neglect of Arab communities’

Israel Police Northern District Chief Shimon Lavi arrives to testify before the Meron disaster commission of inquiry, on August 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel Police Northern District Chief Shimon Lavi arrives to testify before the Meron disaster commission of inquiry, on August 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The commanding officer of the Israel Police’s northern district said Thursday that the Arab community is “responsible for 99 percent of murders and shootings” in the north, as Arab communal violence has continued to spiral out of control.

Shimon Lavi, speaking at a conference on how to develop the Galilee, said that in northern Israel there are some 1.3 million citizens, of which half are Arab.

“That 50% are responsible for 99% of the murder incidents, 99% of the shooting incidents, 65% of the arson incidents, and 80% of the robbery incidents,” Lavi said according to the Haaretz daily. The figures could not be independently verified.

“We are not fighting crime in Arab society, we are at war, and we are determined to address it,” the northern district chief added.

Violent crime in Israel’s Arab community has raged out of control in recent months, even as the government and security officials have vowed to crack down on the problem. According to the Abraham Initiatives organization, 99 Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have been killed in Israel since the start of 2021.

Among the 99 incidents, 82 were gun deaths, according to the group, 48 of them involved the killing of someone under age 30, and 86 of those killed were men.

Israeli forensics and police officers at the scene where three men were found dead at a forest in northern Israel in a suspected triple murder, on November 1, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Last year, 96 Arab Israelis were killed in communal violence, according to the Abraham Initiatives.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, also speaking at the Thursday conference, said the violence in Arab society “did not emerge out of thin air,” but rather was the result of “a long process of crime families taking over due to Israel’s neglect of Arab communities and cities,” according to Haaretz.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev visits a business that was a victim of protection racket, in the upper Galilee, between Rosh Pina and Kiryat Shmona, on August 11, 2021. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Ronen Bar, who began his tenure as head of the Shin Bet on Wednesday, vowed to use the security agency to tackle violent crime in the Arab community, although the security agency’s involvement in civilian affairs remains controversial.

“There has been a lot of talk lately about the growing violence in general and in Arab society in particular,” Bar said at a handover ceremony. “The agency will not stand idly by,” he said, vowing to study the issue and present a plan that would strike the right balance in terms of the agency’s involvement. “This is obviously a national mission.”

New Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar (left) with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, on October 11, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Both government officials and civil society experts say the violence in the Arab community is the fruit of decades of state neglect.

Over half of Arab Israelis live under the poverty line. Their towns and cities often have crumbling infrastructure, poor public services and few job prospects, leading some young people to collaborate with organized crime.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chaired a ministerial meeting earlier this month to address the epidemic of violent crime in Israel’s Arab communities. Ministers decided to utilize the Shin Bet and the military in addressing the problem, although Barlev later ruled out the possibility of the involvement of the Israel Defense Forces.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (center) visits a police station, on August 11, 2021, to announce a new national plan to tackle crime in the Arab sector. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

A task force established by the government will focus on the issue of illegal weapons, said the Prime Minister’s Office. The Justice Ministry will promote a series of laws to provide law enforcement with greater tools to crack down on illegal weapons, including minimum sentences for infractions.

“The situation regarding violence in the Arab sector has reached a red line,” Bennett said at the time. “The problem was pushed aside and neglected for years until it reached outrageous proportions, as we have seen over the past year.”

The prime minister said that the “Arab community must understand that the security forces are not the enemy — they are the solution.” He added: “Dealing with this magnitude will not take a day or two but we are on it. We are taking action and will continue to do so.”

Amy Spiro and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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