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Urging action, president laments deadly organized crime as ‘civilian terrorism’

Noting murders in the Arab Israeli community in particular, Herzog says situation is a ‘national emergency’ that threatens every citizen

President Isaac Herzog address the opening of the Tenth Annual Conference of the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO.)
President Isaac Herzog address the opening of the Tenth Annual Conference of the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO.)

President Isaac Herzog said Thursday that deadly violence from the criminal underworld is a national emergency and form of “terrorism” that threatens the entire country and requires immediate action.

Addressing the opening of the 10th Annual Conference of the Israel Bar Association at the Dan Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, Herzog noted, in particular, the wave of killings in the Arab Israeli community.

“I have been following in astonishment, apprehension, and horror for a long time, especially in recent weeks and days, the terrible wave of murders befalling our country in general and Arab society in particular,” the president said, noting that there had been over 100 murders in the country since last September.

“I sense that our tendency to use terms that downplay the situation, such as ‘crime families,’ ‘inter-clan conflicts,’ and even ‘family honor killings’ — to describe murders that have nothing to do with honor, nor with family — make it difficult for us to wage this war,” he said. “And I therefore wish to emphasize: This situation is neither esoteric nor peripheral. This is civilian terrorism, for all intents and purposes.

“This terrorism is a threat to all of us. There is no such thing as a governance vacuum, or a sovereignty vacuum. Wherever we do not have a presence, as a state, as governing authorities — crime will take over,” he said. “This is a national emergency. We cannot continue living like this.”

Among those also attending the conference were Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the head of the Israel Bar Association, Avi Himi.

Police at the scene of the murder of Sahar Ismail, the education minister’s aide for Arab society, in the northern Israeli town of Rameh, August 15, 2021. (FLASH90)

On Tuesday police unveiled a new undercover unit tasked with addressing violent crime in the Arab Israeli community. The Sinai Unit will consist of 45 undercover officers, who will target hotspots and organized crime in Arab communities throughout the country.

Police chief Shabtai had pushed to enlist the Shin Bet security agency in the effort to combat crime in Arab Israeli communities but received pushback from the attorney general as well as the Shin Bet itself, which argued that such a task is not within its mandate.

Just hours before the unveiling of the Sinai Unit, 57-year-old Muhammed Faiz Dhiab was shot dead by unknown gunmen in his home in the northern city of Haifa.

Among other incidents, last month Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton’s adviser on Arab affairs, Sahar Ismail, was shot dead just outside his home in the town of Rameh.

At least 80 Arabs have been murdered in community violence this year.

Arab Israelis blame police, whom 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.

Shabtai on Sunday called an emergency meeting on the violence after four Arab Israelis were killed in apparent homicides over the weekend.

According to a 2020 Knesset report, some 400,000 illegal weapons are circulating in Israel, the vast majority in Arab communities.

Last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett 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.

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