Arab Israeli voters say the upsurge in violent crime is the No.1 problem. By far.

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When Arab Israelis go to the polls this month in national elections, the most pressing issue they want to address by leaders is neither the peace process nor the economy. Over the past four years, the homicide rate in Arab Israeli communities has jumped 50%, making violent crime – and the quiet police response – the main concern of voters.

Heavily armed criminal organizations are blamed for the violence. But overall, experts say, the increase in crime is the product of several factors, including a decades-long lack of investment in Arab communities that has led to disproportionate levels of poverty and unemployment. Arab leaders demand that more national police resources be devoted to investigating crime on their streets.

Why we wrote this

Even as Arab voters increasingly embrace their voices in Israeli democracy, their current main concern, violent crime, is at least partially rooted in decades of inequity.

Ola Najmi-Yousef, a mother from Nazareth, says crime there has grown so severe that she has displaced her children from rooms facing the street, fearing stray bullets. She runs a program that seeks safer Arab neighborhoods, in part by strengthening ties and communication between local Arab leaders and state officials, including the police.

“I see what happens as parts of a puzzle. It’s not just the communities, the police or the government; everyone has to work together, ”she said.

Umm el-Fahm, Israel

When Amir Jabareen heard gunfire ringing near his home last spring, he knew he would have to wait several minutes before venturing out.

This would give time for the shooter to leave the scene and for Mr. Jabareen, an engineering student, to safely verify what happened.

This is what living amid an outbreak of uncontrolled violent street crime has taught Arab citizens of Israel like Mr. Jabareen, who lives in Umm el-Fahm, an Arab town of some 56,000 people who straddles the Green Line in north-central Israel.

Why we wrote this

Even as Arab voters increasingly embrace their voice in Israeli democracy, their current main concern, violent crime, is at least partially rooted in decades of inequity.

Over the past four years, the homicide rate in Arab Israeli communities has jumped by 50%, making violent crime – and the quiet response of the national police – the main concern of Arab voters in the country’s national elections. this month.

Heavily armed criminal organizations are blamed for the violence, but overall, experts say the increase in crime is the product of several factors, some of which are rooted in a fundamental inequality of access to resources and opportunities. that Israeli Arabs have known for a long time.

According to a December survey of Arab voters by the Konrad Adenauer Program for Judeo-Arab Cooperation, 51.9% said violent crime was the most important problem for them. The fight against poverty was far behind with 13.4%, ahead of concerns about other equity issues. Other surveys have revealed that it also ranks well above the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In Umm el-Fahm, Mr. Jabareen was among the first to reach the victim, a man sprawled on the steps leading to his home. An ambulance arrived within minutes, but the police, he said, took an hour and a half to arrive at the scene and only returned two days later to take pictures and recover the worn shells.

“I felt there was no point in doing even the bare minimum. This essentially confirms what we continue to see, that they [the police] aren’t really interested in solving cases, ”said Jabareen, standing in front of the crime scene, too shaken nearly a year later to get any closer.

Voters Wanted

As Israel’s deadlocked political system heads to its fourth election in two years, the votes of Israel’s Arab minority have become more sought after than ever. But as parties across the political spectrum seek their support, Arab voters ask them what they will do to stop the violence.

They say authorities have deliberately neglected their communities for decades and are demanding not only an increased police presence, but also more aggressive detective work to solve crimes.

Arab leaders say it could help build trust between Arab citizens and the state after years of mistrust, the origins of which date back to the founding of Israel and the vision of the Arab minority as the fifth column.

Arab citizens cite statistics they say demonstrate a systemic disregard for their security. Of the 74 murders that took place in the Arab sector in 2020 in November, only 22% resulted in charges, compared with a charge rate of 53% in Jewish homicide cases, according to the Haaretz newspaper.

By the end of the year, the number of murdered Arab citizens was about double that of Jews, even though Arabs made up only 20% of the population, according to The Abraham Initiatives, an organization that promotes equality between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. .

On Tuesday, a 15-year-old named Mohammed Ades was killed and his 12-year-old friend seriously injured when they were gunned down just 30 meters from a police station in Jaljulya, an Arab town in central Israel.

Aida Touma-Suleiman, a lawmaker from the United Arab List, the largest Arab party, called the shooting “heartbreaking” and clarified who she holds responsible: “The blood is on the criminals, but the blame is also on. the government and the police who neglected our children.

Thousands of residents of the predominantly Arab town of Umm el-Fahm, Israel, took to the streets to protest police brutality and gun violence in the Arab community on March 5, 2021. Town residents neighbors and Israeli Jews joined the protests, as did representatives of political parties. A wave of violent crime in predominantly Arab areas of Israel is a major concern of Arab voters.

Government funds

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now wooing the same Arab voters he ridiculed as a threat in previous elections, promised last week that the government would invest $ 45 million in tackling violence in neighborhoods and communities. Arab towns. Most Arab leaders, including Ayman Odeh, who heads the Joint List, dismissed it as both late and insufficient.

One criticism is that most of the funds are intended for the construction and renovation of police stations in Arab areas.

Nasreen Haddad Haj-Yahya, director of the Arab-Jewish relations program at the Israel Democracy Institute, says what Arab neighborhoods and towns need more than additional police stations is “a police force that can investigate crimes and show results ”.

“Just as the state knows how to provide for the needs of the Jewish population, it must do the same for the Arab population,” said Dr Haddad Haj-Yahya, stressing how successful the Israeli police have been in combating crime organized in Jewish towns. in the 1990s.

“In the streets there is a feeling of fear,” she said, “because now the shootings are taking place even in broad daylight; criminals know cities have become like the Old West, so they can do whatever they want.

Contributing factors

The increase in crime is linked to a combination of problems. A decades-long lack of investment has led to disproportionate levels of poverty and unemployment in the Arab sector, especially among young men, which have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arab citizens face discrimination in obtaining credit or bank loans, says Dr Haddad Haj-Yahya, and a growing number, especially in the past year, have borrowed money from the black market, run by racketeering organized crime. Defaulting on a loan can be fatal. Passers-by are also sometimes killed in crossfire between warring criminal gangs.

All of this is playing out as Arab society experiences a collapse of traditional leadership that once had the power to arbitrate disputes, between families or individuals.

Worsening crisis: Few Arab citizens – only 19%, according to a survey by The Abraham Initiatives – trust the police.

Police say it is difficult to get cooperation from Arab citizens who fear they themselves will become targets of criminal gangs. The collection of the plethora of illegal weapons that are helping fuel the violence is also meeting resistance on the ground, police say.

Building bridges

Ola Najmi-Yousef, an Arab mother in Nazareth, says crime there has grown so severe that she has displaced her children from rooms facing the street, fearing stray bullets.

Ms. Najmi-Yousef runs a program called Safe Communities run by The Abraham Initiatives. Its mission is to build safer and more trusting Arab neighborhoods, in part by strengthening ties and communication between local Arab leaders and state officials, including the police.

Among its initiatives are a financial literacy course for young people, self-defense courses for women and round tables between Arab mayors and police officials.

“I see what happens as parts of a puzzle. It is not the communities, the police or the government alone; everyone has to work together, ”she said.

Sireen Jabareen, a university student from Umm el-Fahm, launched a regional protest movement with a group of friends in response to the violence. Every Friday for six weeks, they have organized large demonstrations which sometimes number in the thousands, calling for a muscular repression of violence.

“We just don’t feel safe,” she said, explaining that she herself had witnessed three shootings in the past two years.

“Our message to the authorities and the police is just to do what they need to do so that people feel they can live safe,” she said. “It’s the most basic thing in the world; it is truly a fundamental human right.

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