Earlier this month, a security officer opened fire on demonstrators in Kafr Qasim, killing twenty-year-old Muhammed Taha and sparking debates across Israel about police brutality and violence in the Arab community. Since 2000, state authorities have killed forty-seven Arab Palestinian citizens. Unfortunately, police brutality pales in comparison to the disproportionately high murder rates in Arab areas. In 2015, Arabs were involved in 59% of the murders that took place in Israel. The vast majority of the victims were Arab citizens.
Since 2000, over 1,200 Arabs have been murdered and, according to the office of MK Haneen Zoabi, over thirty-three Arab citizens have already been murdered this year.
Thus, on Thursday, June 22, 2017, the Mossawa Center gathered Arab politicians, activists, civil society representatives, religious leaders, and community members to find ways to put an end to the violence in the Arab community. Many participants, such as Adv. Reda Jaber of the Aman Institute, expressed indignation towards the state’s indifference to such high murder rates, noting that only five percent of the state's policing budget is allocated for fighting crime in Arab areas. With only seven police stations in Arab communities across the country, the majority of the seventy-some Arab localities in Israel do not even have so much as a local police force.
Participants in the discussion were quick to note, however, that more equitable funding or the presence of a police station alone will not ensure security, either. In fact, in Kafr Qasim, one of the few Arab localities with a police station, residents had gathered on the night of Taha’s death not to protest a lack of police, but to protest a lack of police action amidst a series of unsolved murders (six since the beginning of the year). Two of those murdered had died as a result of their activities with the civilian city-watch, which residents had created to fill the vacuum left by the city’s inactive police force. In Kafr Qasim and in Arab localities across Israel, Arab communities share the sentiment that the police are, at best, indifferent to their security and, at worst, a threat to it. The death of Muhammed Taha only reinforced this.
Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center, noted that police activity in the Arab sector generally arises only when Arabs are suspected of posing a threat to Jewish citizens. Otherwise, cases of drug and weapons trafficking, organized crime, and domestic abuse go unrestrained, bringing to mind racist police practices towards people of color in the United States, as well as racist and discriminatory policing in apartheid South African and Ireland. Mohammad Barakeh, the chair of the High Follow-Up Committee, stressed the importance of holding the state and the police force accountable for this selective approach to policing.
Police indifference is particularly common in cases of violence against women. According to MK Aida Touma-Sliman who heads the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, in the last year, over fifteen Arab women have been killed in the Ramla-Lod area alone, while only three men have received charges. Many women’s rights activists attribute police inaction in such incidences to the state and the media’s tendency to dismiss violence against Arab women as so-called “honor killings,” which they deem as an Arab problem, eliding the fact that organized crime plays a major role in many of these murders.
Rather than a cultural phenomenon, crime in the Arab community results from a vast array of social, economic, and political variables. As Dr. Mary Totry noted during the discussion, the primary forces driving crime include poverty, the absence of alternative outlets for youth, inadequate educational programming, the illegal sale of arms, and a flourishing black market. With such varied causes of violence in the Arab community, and in light of the lack of trust between the Arab community and the police, a viable solution will not rely on policing alone.
While solutions naturally must come both from within and without the Arab community, the blame for violence and crime in the Arab community lies largely on the perpetrators of systematic inequality in Israel; that is, the state itself. Arabs constitute over half of those living in poverty, despite the fact that they count for only one-fifth of the population. As the Mossawa Center has reported repeatedly in the past, the state refuses to take the necessary actions to uplift the Arab community socioeconomically. The rampant violence in the Arab sector should, therefore, come as no surprise to Minister of Education Naftali Bennet, for example, who refuses to implement the state’s budget in the Arab community. Without the proper resources for educational programming, social workers, community centers, and welfare services, the Arab community cannot miraculously pull itself out of this crisis.
Nonetheless, when community members gathered at the Mossawa Center last night, they focused on what the Arab community itself can do. The dedication of Arab activists, academics, and politicians to reducing crime and violence in the Arab community demonstrates the willingness on the part of the community to make efforts to find a solution to this problem. The question remains whether or not the state will fulfill its role, namely in providing the Arab community with its fair share of state resources, in incentivizing law enforcement to serve rather than target the Arab community, in curbing the sale of illegal arms, and in ensuring the presence of alternatives to the black market in Arab localities.
The Mossawa Center, therefore, calls on:
- local Arab political leadership and the state of Israel to improve educational programming in the Arab community, with a special emphasis on violence against women.
- local Arab political leadership and the state of Israel to act to prevent the dropout of teenagers from schools, namely by providing alternatives to expulsion.
- the Israeli police force to serve the Jewish and the Arab population equally and to cease its treatment of the Arab community as an internal enemy.
- the international community and the state of Israel to ensure that Israeli law enforcement institutions act to prevent the illegal sale of weapons, especially those coming from the army and security forces, which likely make up the majority of the illegal weapons in Israel.
- the state to ensure that banking regulations fit the needs of the Arab community and that banking services are present in all Arab localities so as to avoid forcing members of the community to turn to the black market for loans.
- Arab local councils, NGOs, and political groups to facilitate youth frameworks in order to provide an alternative to crime networks.
- the state to implement funds for youth programming and education equitably.
For more information, please contact [email protected].
For more information you can also watch the following Channel 1 news segment, during which Jafar Farah discusses crime in the Arab community (Hebrew only).