Israeli Arabs go on strike to protest deadly crime wave

Israeli Arabs protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings among their communities, in the Arab town of Majd Al-Krum in Northen Israel on October 3, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2019

Israeli Arabs go on strike to protest deadly crime wave

  • Israel’s Arab citizens make up 20 percent of the population and are descended from Palestinians who remained in the state after its creation in 1948

JERUSALEM: Arab citizens of Israel observed a general strike and held protests on Thursday over a wave of deadly violence within the minority community.

Schools and businesses in Arab towns and villages were closed following a call by local and national Arab leaders, and newly elected Arab members of Parliament skipped the official swearing-in out of solidarity.

Police say there have been more than 70 killings in Arab communities this year, nearly as many as in each of the past two years, when Arabs made up more than half of all murder victims nationwide. Earlier this week, two brothers and a third individual were killed in a brawl involving guns and knives in the northern town of Majd Al-Krum.

Arab leaders say Israeli police largely ignore the violence in their communities, everything from family feuds and mafia turf wars to domestic violence and so-called honor killings. Israel’s Arab citizens make up 20 percent of the population and are descended from Palestinians who remained in the state after its creation in 1948. They have the right to vote but suffer discrimination and say authorities treat them like second-class citizens.

An Arab coalition made major gains in last month’s parliamentary elections, and has made improving public safety one of its top priorities. The 13 newly elected lawmakers did not attend the swearing-in at the Knesset because they were taking part in the strike.

“A racist government has neglected us and the police have abandoned our neighborhoods to gangs and criminals,” Ayman Odeh, the head of the Arab parliamentary bloc, tweeted. He said the strike was to demand weapons searches, tougher action against organized crime and higher budgets for education.

“If there is no other choice, we will block streets to return safety to the streets,” he said.

The police adamantly reject the allegations of indifference and say they are doing everything they can to stem the violence.

“Police are continuing to speak to the leaders of the communities in order to try and prevent the incidents from taking place, but at the same time also working inside the communities, patrolling more,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

He said seven new police stations have been opened in Arab communities this year and there are plans to open eight more in the coming months. This year alone, police have confiscated 4,000 weapons and arrested some 2,800 people on weapons-related charges, according to Rosenfeld.

But he said local leaders need to do more to cooperate with police and to prevent violence.

“It has to come also from inside the community,” he said. “They can’t just, you know, decide at a wedding to open fire and shoot in the air. These are basic issues that have to be dealt with by the leaders of the communities.”

Thabet Abu Rass, the co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, a group that promotes coexistence between Arabs and Jews, says he has personally worked to improve relations between the police and Arab communities as part of the group’s public safety program. But he said there is still a security vacuum in many Arab towns and villages that allows criminals to thrive.

“In terms of public and private safety our Arab towns are kind of ex-territorial, it’s kind of outside of Israel,” he said. “While we are citizens of the state of Israel, the state is not here, not in our towns.”

He said there’s a high level of mistrust between police and Arab citizens that makes cooperation difficult, and that the lack of a police presence inside the communities makes people reluctant to come forward with information for fear of violent reprisal.

“We are willing to cooperate with the police in issues related to combatting violence and crime in our community,” he said. But “before cooperation, we would like to see a police presence in our towns.”


Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

Updated 20 October 2019

Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

  • Reports are credible, expert tells Arab News
  • Hospitals report spike in burns victims

ANKARA: Accusations that Turkey has used banned incendiary weapons against civilians in its invasion of northern Syria are credible, a leading security analyst told Arab News on Saturday.

Kurdish leaders said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fighter jets had dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus on civilian targets in the border town of Ras Al-Ain, a key objective for Turkish troops.

“The Turkish aggression is using all available weapons against Ras Al-Ain,” the Kurdish administration said. “Faced with the obvious failure of his plan, Erdogan is resorting to weapons that are globally banned, such as phosphorus and napalm.”

Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for New American Security, told Arab News: “There are now multiple credible reports that Turkey has used white phosphorus munitions in its campaign in northeast Syria, and especially against the stubborn defenders of the city of Ras Al-Ain.”

The attacks on Ras Al-Ain are being investigated by UN chemical weapons inspectors, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Human Rights Watch. 

OPCW said it had “not yet determined the credibility of these allegations,” and its inspectors were monitoring the situation.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Erdogan’s jets ‘dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus in Ras Al-Ain.’
  • The attacks are being probed by UN chemical weapons inspectors and Human Rights Watch.
  • A video posted on social media shows children with burns that a doctor says were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

If the use of banned incendiary weapons were proved, it would be a grave violation of Turkey’s pledge to wage war with concern for civilian lives, Heras said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there had been a spike in burn wounds treated at the Syrian-Kurdish hospital at Tal Tamir, mostly casualties brought in from the Ras Al-Ain area. 

The Kurdish Red Crescent said at least six people were being treated in hospital for burns. 

Kurdish officials posted a video on social media showing children with burns that one doctor in Hasakeh province said were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, told the UK newspaper The Times that the burns appeared to have been caused by white phosphorus.

The substance may be used to create a smoke screen, or as a battlefield marker, especially at night, but its use as an incendiary weapon is prohibited under international law.

Since 1997, Turkey has been a signatory to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

Dr. Willem Theo Oosterveld, a senior fellow at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, said the deployment of white phosphorus was not explicitly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. 

However, he said, under humanitarian law “the use of means and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is prohibited.”