Steve Kramer
Steve Kramer

A Problem of Homicides

Yes, there’s gang violence in Israel, but not nearly on the scale of American gang violence. Violent crime in Israel is predominantly found in Israeli Arab towns and in mixed Arab-Jewish cities. It’s often clan/tribal related, consisting of organized crime disputes and more personal, vengeance attacks. In addition, there’s a continuing problem with so-called honor killings, which are intra-family. (In general, Israel is a very safe place, with women not afraid to walk on city streets at night and children having few limits placed on their play time.)

Homicides in Israel’s Arab population, which is about 20% of Israel’s 9 million total population, have reached 104 up to 10/24/21, a figure which has citizens and the government trying to find a way to rapidly decrease. A lot of money has been invested in the Arab community in the last decade, with even more projected. Israeli Arabs, most of whom prefer to be called “Palestinians in Israel,” protest the lack of police and police stations in their cities and neighborhoods. 

Similar to other Western countries with large or growing Muslim populations, Israel has many Arab neighborhoods where police are not welcomed, not to mention ambulances, firefighters, and utility workers. It’s been proposed that the Shin Bet (roughly equivalent to the FBI) or even the army get involved in fighting crime in these cities and neighborhoods, but that might bring other problems that could worsen the situation. 

In one of the larger and most violent Israeli Arab cities, Umm el-Fahm, acting Mayor Zaki Aghbariyah says he is opposed to the involvement of the Shin Bet and IDF: “The police are the only party capable of dealing with the violent crime. The police have all the capabilities, but they are not offering any solutions, and this does not bode well for the Arabs. We hear about long-term plans, but violence and crime in the Arab sector are increasing. The long-term plans are good and acceptable, but they are for the future. What do we do now to solve the problem?” (Quotes from www.jpost.com 10/22/21)

Another possible, but controversial, tactic to minimize exceptional violence is administrative (indefinite) detentions of suspected criminals without a trial, which includes a ban on their meeting with lawyers. Administrative detention is already in limited use against suspected terrorists in Israel. (Think Guantanamo Bay.) While certainly not approving of administrative detention, the mayor says, “The crime in the Arab sector has become a security threat; it is a real threat to society. We can’t afford to wait any longer. This is a state of emergency…. What about the police?”

Umm el-Fahm does work with the police to end the violent crime. It also has “reconciliation committees” working to make peace between rival families and individuals. A big problem is the prevalence of illegal weapons in a country where legal gun ownership is strictly controlled and relatively sparse. But the Arab community has about 400,000 weapons, of which less than 5% have been seized. Consequently, the law-abiding citizens, who are the large majority, are living in fear.

Another town official, who concurs with the mayor said, “But the feeling here is that the authorities have failed. Every day, we see young men carrying weapons in public. The criminals are no longer afraid of the police. What is happening in the Arab sector is a civil war.”

A local businessman opined, “The main problem is that the police and other state institutions consider the Arabs an enemy. They don’t care when an Arab kills an Arab.” There is something to that argument. Similar to the US, only a small percentage of Israeli Arabs are killed by the police, who may be Jewish, Arab, or Druse. The overwhelming majority of homicides are Arabs killing Arabs.

Many Umm el-Fahm residents fear that if the criminals and murderers aren’t stopped, their society will be destroyed. Frustration with the Arab leaders is felt by some residents, who feel that the Arab politicians are too busy fighting each other to pay attention to their constituents or to care about them. It’s important to know that the electoral system in Israel for electing members of Knesset is not geographically based. Thus there is no particular Knesset representative of Umm el-Fahm, or any other locality, to turn to.

The director of the Umm el-Fahm Art Gallery, says something different, “The people who are being killed are our sons. We can’t avoid responsibility for what’s happening. We need to embrace and protect our young people. We must offer them hope for a better future. This is our duty as a society. In my opinion, every killing or shooting is a crime against humanity and society.” (https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/israeli-arabs-have-mixed-feelings-on-intervention-to-stop-violence-682789)

In my opinion, what the art gallery director says is the essential argument to tackling the problem. Israeli Arab society needs to look inward to take responsibility for its mores, which either allow endemic violence or doesn’t. If not, then the good people have to join with the authorities to root out the bad apples. But if violence has become an fundamental part of the society’s character, then very drastic actions must be taken.

Many, if not most, Arab Israelis say that, “The Arabs are not an enemy of the state. We are not a security threat.” But in reality they do endanger themselves and the state by continual infighting among the clans/tribes. A combined effort: Israeli Arabs transforming murderous traits in their society, Israeli Arab politicians working for the good of their constituents, and the government devising an effective prophylactic strategy, will begin to give Israel’s Arab citizens the security that they crave.

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.
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