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Arab Sector Violence

Israel Update – Week of July 30, 2023

Arab Sector Violence: My son-in-law works for the Israeli Police Force in Crime Scene Investigation (CSI). Every four weeks he works on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath). When he returned from work last week, my daughter and her children were at our house, eating the Shabbat meal, so I got a chance to speak with him. When I asked him if he had any cases during that day, he answered in the affirmative. He had no less than thirteen cases. That in and of itself is somewhat surprising. We live in the Western Galilee, a sort of “backwoods” part of the country with a population of about half a million spread out over 250 square miles. Thirteen cases requiring CSI intervention is well above norm, but what was extraordinary was that every single one of the thirteen cases occurred in an Arab town. Our part of the country is slightly more than 50% Arab. Thirteen out of thirteen cases of violent crime occurred in Arab towns.

As of August 1, 2023, 138 Israeli Arabs had been murdered by other Israeli Arabs. This number is four times as high as the number of murders in which Jewish Israelis murdered Jewish Israelis. Considering that the Arab population of Israel is about 20% of the total population, the murder rate per capita among Arabs is about twenty times greater than the murder rate among Jews. The murder rate among Israeli Arabs has been steadily rising since 2016, when 54 Arabs were murdered. If the current murder rate continues unabated, in 2023 about 262 Arabs will be murdered. As the violence spiraled out of control in 2021, the Bennett-Lapid government placed bringing down crime in the Arab sector as one of its top priorities. It budgeted some NIS 2.5 billion for the task and drew up a holistic approach to tackle the issue. This put a slight dent in the rising numbers but numbers continue to rise exponentially.

A problem with numbers is that they are, well, numbers. The human story is heart-breaking. On June 8th, five Arab Israelis were shot dead at a car wash in Yafa an-Naseriyye, an Arab town near Nazareth. One of the victims was only 15 years old. One day later, 18-year-old Sarit Ahmad was shot dead in northern Israel in her car just outside her hometown of Kisra-Sumei. Darya Leitel was strangled to death by her husband while their children slept in the next room. Adisi Albana’s husband stabbed her multiple times, all while paramedics tried to get into the locked apartment. Bara'a Massaroa was found dead in her home in Taibeh, with her two sons – six-month-old Amir and two-year-old Adam – lying dead next to her.

Why is violent crime spiking in the Israeli Arab sector? Is there something that can be done to prevent the next murder? Many blame the police, citing years of neglect in which Arab towns were ex-territory because policemen believed it was not safe to enter these towns. Over the past decade, police stations have sprouted up in a large number of Arab towns. Over the past year, no less than ten new police stations were opened in the Arab sector. Why are they not having any effect?

Some pundits go further, blaming the Shin Bet (Israel's FBI) and Itamar Ben Gvir, the Minister of National Security, who is responsible for both the police and the Shin Bet. Herb Keinon, writing in an Op-Ed in the Jerusalem Post, asserts that there is no “silver bullet.” There are no quick fixes in bringing down violent crime in the Arab sector. “Problems of this proportion are not solved with one magic wand or a single silver bullet. Rather, it will take a series of steps.” Keinon’s first step is to call up Border Police (Magav) to patrol particularly hard-hit spots in the Arab community. “At a time when one murder follows the next in chilling rapidity, the presence of border police on the street would provide a sense of security and might provide deterrence.” Keinon also suggests buttressing the police force. While Israel's population has about doubled in the last fifty years, the size of the police force has only increased by about 20%. Perhaps hiring more policeman could reduce crime.

Probably the most insightful commentary I have personally seen is from LtCol (Res) Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli scholar of Arab culture and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University. In a video (in Hebrew) recorded in early July, while not mentioning Keinon explicitly, Kedar takes Keinon and his recommendations to task. According to Kedar, the primary reason why it is so difficult to staunch the bleeding is due, to a large extent, to the tribalistic nature of the Israeli Arab population (Kedar has for years been a firm and vocal proponent of the effect of tribalism in shaping Arab policy.) Most Arab towns are inhabited and operated by one or two extended Arab families (hamulot) and most of the local violence is sectarian with each family vying for power and control. The problem with inter-tribal crime is that there are no witnesses. Kedar says, “When a crime takes place in a Jewish town, the police investigator interviews the upstairs neighbor, the downstairs neighbor, and the next-door neighbor and by the time he has finished three or four interviews, he can begin to get a pretty good picture of what really happened.” Arab families, on the other hand, are extremely close-lipped. A popular Arabic adage states, “When trouble comes, it's your family that supports you.” Getting one family member to incriminate another is nearly unheard of.

In an attempt to cajole Arabs into testifying, the Israel Police force has inducted a large number of Arab cadets. According to Kedar, this has had the reverse effect: A potential Arab witness does not consider the Arab policeman an Arab brother – he considers him a member of the other family and a potential enemy. A Jewish police officer does not share this stigma. As far as the Arab is concerned, the Jewish policeman is an unconnected third party. The upshot is that replacing Jewish policemen with Arab policemen makes it even more difficult to solve the crime.

Another reason for Arab violence, explains Kedar, is family honor. As defined by the National Institute of Health, “honor killing” is defined as a violent crime committed by one or more perpetrators, usually a male family member, against a woman who committed alleged misbehaviors or acts that brought shame to the family, which the crime is supposed to erase, restoring honor to their family.” The shame can be brought on by a multitude of “crimes”, from having a sexual relationship with a non-Muslim to dressing without the proper “humility” to exhibiting homosexual behavior. While tribal violence is covered up by Arab society, honor violence is lauded.

Sadly, Kedar does not have any solutions. He does not end his words on an optimistic note. He ends his words with a quote from the Qur'an, stating that not even G-d can change a person before he changes himself. Kedar believes that the source of the violence is societal and that a solution can be found only if society changes. Note that it is difficult to corroborate whether other Arab populations around the globe suffer a similar propensity to violence, as the statistics are spotty and untrustworthy. For example, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the official murder rate in Israel in 2023 is almost double the murder rate in Syria, throwing serious doubt on the veracity of the statistics.

An article published by the prestigious Israel think-tank Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) summarizes the situation: The sharp rise in crime and homicide in Arab society could undermine stability and domestic security in Israel. It could also harm relations between Jews and Arabs and Arab citizens’ faith in the state and in the law enforcement bodies. Israel’s political leaders, Jews and Arabs alike, must recognize these dangers and urgently renew efforts to combat crime in Arab society.”

Recognizing the dangers is a critical first step; solving the problem is another story altogether.

Wishing you a quiet week,

Ari Sacher

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