Crime wave in Israel’s Arab towns exposes rift with police

Israeli Arabs, who suffer from widespread discrimination, protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings among their communities, in the Arab town of Majd Al-Krum. (AFP)
Updated 10 October 2019

Crime wave in Israel’s Arab towns exposes rift with police

  • Israel has seen mass protests, complaints of police negligence and a public debate about violence in Arab communities

MAJD AL-KRUM: In the week since three men were killed in a midday shootout in an Arab town in northern Israel, the country has seen mass protests, complaints of police negligence and a public debate about violence in Arab communities that has veered into racist generalizations.

A recent spike in killings within Arab towns has exposed the longstanding mistrust between the marginalized community and Israeli authorities, with each side accusing the other of neglecting the problem.

Arab citizens, who suffer from widespread discrimination, say Israel’s vaunted security forces are suspiciously powerless when it comes to combatting violence in their communities. Police say local leaders and residents must do more to help them impose law and order.

The debate was reignited last week by the shootout in the northern town of Majd Al-Krum, which killed two brothers, Ahmed and Khalil Manaa, and a third man, Mohammed Sabea. Another Manaa brother was wounded and remains in hospital, and a fifth man is said to be on the run. The police have opened an investigation but refuse to provide any details.

“They loved everyone and everyone loved them,” Aisha Manaa said as she sobbed and held a picture of her two slain sons, one of whom is survived by a wife and two small children. “How can something like this happen?”

Israel’s Arab citizens make up just 20 percent of the population but account for more than half of all murder victims nationwide. At least 71 Arabs have been killed so far this year, nearly as many as in each of the preceding two years, putting it on track to be the deadliest year in at least a decade.

Last month a stray bullet killed a 21-year-old pregnant mother at a wedding outside the northern city of Haifa. Police say a shooting late on Tuesday in Jaljulia, a small Arab town in central Israel, left one person dead and another moderately wounded. Local media have aired surveillance footage from other areas showing masked gunmen firing at each other with assault rifles in broad daylight.

“Children go to school and they are terrified,” Manaa said. “We are afraid during the day and during the night. It is not safe anymore.”

The police say they are doing everything they can, from stepping up patrols to opening new stations in Arab communities. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said they have confiscated more than 3,500 illegal weapons and arrested more than 2,500 people on weapons charges this year alone. On Wednesday, police announced a major weapons bust in which they seized 200 guns as well as dozens of grenades and explosives.

“The Israeli police can respond to hundreds of incidents, as we do,” Rosenfeld said. “But of course we have to make sure that the leaders of the different communities are speaking to the youngsters, are speaking to the local residents, are making sure that at local weddings, you don’t have men that are turning up, using weapons and firing openly.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who oversees the police force, went further, telling a local radio station Monday that “Arab society, and I am sorry to say this, is very, very violent.”

“It’s connected to the culture there. A lot of disputes that end here with a lawsuit, there they pull out a knife and a gun,” he said. He later walked back the remarks, tweeting that the “main responsibility” for fighting crime lies with the government and police, and describing the Arab public as “normative and law-abiding.”

The Joint List of Arab political parties, which emerged as the third-largest voting bloc in the Knesset in last month’s national elections, slammed Erdan’s “racist” remarks, saying “the problem is not in the culture but in the policies.” It pointed to a series of large protests held in Arab towns in recent days condemning both the violence and the police response.

The mutual mistrust is rooted in the Middle East conflict. Arab citizens have close family ties to the Palestinians in the occupied territories and largely identify with the Palestinian cause. In recent years, Israeli police have tried to boost Arab recruitment, but only a small number have joined, and many in the community continue to see the Israeli security apparatus as a hostile force. Many Israelis in turn view Arabs with suspicion, and in recent elections Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other politicians branded Arab citizens as traitors or terrorists.

The two families involved in the shootout in Majd Al-Krum know each other and even visited each other’s mourning tents. Mohammed Manaa, the brothers’ uncle and a former head of the local council, acknowledges that the community bears some responsibility for the spike in violence. “There’s no supervision, neither from the family, nor the local council, nor the government,” he said.

But like many Arab citizens, he sees a wide gulf between how Israel responds to threats against the state or its Jewish citizens, and its handling of violence within Arab communities.

“The Israeli government knows every detail about everything that happens inside and outside the country,” he said. “They can reach Iran, Iraq, Syria, everywhere, and they can’t remove weapons from the Arab towns?”

“They are happy with this situation, this chaos,” he added.

Manaa served on Majd Al-Krum’s local council for more than two decades, and he would seem to be the kind of community leader who could help the police, but he says he has no idea what led to the shooting. Ali Sabea, whose nephew was killed, said the young men were all friends and that he doesn’t know what caused the violence.

The Abraham Initiatives, an advocacy group that promotes coexistence between Jews and Arabs, operates in Arab communities and investigates violent incidents in order to encourage better cooperation among residents, local leaders and police. Ola Najami-Yousef, co-manager of the group’s Safe Communities Initiative, said violence in Arab communities is rooted in years of discrimination and neglect by Israeli authorities.

“The lack of investment in the development and growth of Arab society in all fields, whether in construction, infrastructure, education, or economy, all this has led to a society that is very violent,” she said. But she said it’s unfair to hold the community fully responsible.

The police “aren’t doing their job, so they blame the victims,” she said. “It’s not the responsibility of local leaders or Knesset members to come and collect weapons from the Arab community. That’s the responsibility of the police.”


Iraqi grand ayatollah: I support the people, and they want change

As strikes resume in Iraq, anti-government protesters stand on a concrete wall set up by security forces in Al-Rashid district in Baghdad on Sunday. (AP)
Updated 12 min 54 sec ago

Iraqi grand ayatollah: I support the people, and they want change

  • Iran’s blatant interference in Iraqi affairs and its involvement in crackdown on protesters angers Ali Sistani

BAGHDAD: A senior adviser to Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani has told Arab News that he does not support the continuation of the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and that the existing political forces did not press for early parliamentary elections with a new election law and an electoral commission. Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have endured mass demonstrations against the government since Oct. 1.

More than 300 demonstrators have been killed and 15,000 others have been injured, mostly in Baghdad, due to bloody crackdowns led by Abdul Mahdi’s government and his Iranian-backed allies.
Al-Sistani is the leader of the world’s Shiite community and the most influential cleric in Iraq and has been the godfather of the political process since 2003. No government or prime minister can survive without Al-Sistani’s support and blessing.
Protesters, initially protesting against corruption, unemployment and lack of daily basic services, were brutally repressed in the first week of October by Abdul Mahdi’s government and his Iran-backed allies, killing more than 147 demonstrators and wounding more than 6,000 others with live ammunition and tear gas canisters, which stopped demonstrations for two weeks.
But demonstrations resumed on Oct. 25 after Al-Sistani announced his support and the Iraqi government vowed not to use live ammunition.
The return of the protests was accompanied by increasing demands to overthrow Abdul Mahdi’s government and the holding of early national parliamentary elections preceded by the change of the election law and the electoral commission.
Abdul Mahdi and his allies from the political forces announced their agreement to meet the demands of the demonstrators except the dismissal or resignation of Abdul Mahdi or early elections.

PM’s survival
The prime minister’s allies insist on his survival, accompanied by a significant increase in killings, kidnappings and arrests of activists and journalists, with the promotion of news that they have an agreement with Al-Sistani that allows the continuation of Abdul Mahdi’s government, new ministerial and constitutional amendments and a set of important laws, without holding early elections.
Al-Sistani’s office denied that they had concluded such an agreement or that they had anything to do with it.
“The real conviction is the conviction of the people. We have no guardianship over the people, but we support it because the constitution says they are the source of powers,” Sistani’s top aid told Arab News.
“We support peaceful demonstration because it is the right of the citizen … If it remains peaceful, it will affect the state’s convictions.
“We have no confidence that those (political forces) will be able to solve the problem. We see that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution and unless there is a real change within the constitutional items, the problem will remain the same.”

FASTFACTS

• Abdul Mahdi and his allies from the political forces announced their agreement to meet the demands of the demonstrators except the dismissal or resignation of the government, or early elections. 

• Ali Sistani’s top aid tells Arab News that the grand ayatollah does not suppport the continuation of the present government in Iraq.

Iraq ranks high on the list of the most corrupt countries. The system of political, sectarian and ethnic quotas adopted by Iraqi politicians since 2004, which includes the three presidencies and ministries and advanced positions in all state institutions, contributed to the spread of financial and administrative corruption and provided the required protection for corrupt politicians.
“There have been no real treatments for corruption over the past years. Corruption is rampant ... because of the weakness of the judiciary and the regulatory authorities, some of which have sought to use corruption cases to blackmail and enrich themselves.
“Officials are getting rich at the expense of the people. Corruption whales became powerful, while the qualified people have left Iraq and the graduates do not find jobs.
“We have no hope in the existing political forces and the chances of continuation of this government are very small. “They should all leave. This political class must leave.”
Al-Sistani has recently intervened in major events, as happened when the Iraqi Army collapsed and Daesh overran one-third of Iraqi territories in the western and northern parts of the country in the summer of 2014 and advanced toward Baghdad, when he issued an edict (fatwa) demanding that people take up arms and volunteer to support Iraqi forces in their fight against Daesh. Sistani’s intervention this time appeared gradually and through Friday sermons.

Strongest sermon
The last Friday sermon was the strongest to date, as Al-Sistani’s told his followers: “If those who have power (now), think they can evade real reform, with procrastination, they are delusional. The aftermath of these protests will not be the same as before. They should be careful.”
This was understood by most politicians and observers as a yellow ultimatum, which could soon be followed by a warning of expulsion or paralysis of civilian life.
“We do not interfere with particles. We have constitutional mechanisms that we do not want to get out of, but when we found that these mechanisms were tailored to the size of the existing political forces, we demanded a new electoral law that would ensure a genuine representation of the people and a new electoral commission that people trust will safeguard their choices,” Al-Sistani’s aid said.
“We will not allow things to descend into chaos. This is not an option. Our biggest concern is that the law will weaken further, which means slipping into infighting.”
Iran’s blatant interference in Iraqi affairs, reflected by the statements of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who was publicly demanding an end to the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon, and the involvement of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, in the crackdown on protesters, has angered Al-Sistani. This was evident in his three previous speeches.
“We have a real problem: Iraq is negatively affected by the (regional) environment. We will not allow Iraq to be a battleground for any regional or international party ... we will not allow anyone to interfere in the affairs of Iraq, whether it is a friend or an enemy, because all interventions are aimed at serving special ambitions,” Al-Sistani’s aid said.
“He will not leave the people. If the people’s demand is for early elections, then we support early elections, and if they want to change the (political) system, we support it … and if they say that they do not want this government, we support it.
“Our position is clear and unambiguous. We are with the people in what they want ... and Al-Sistani has not used its strongest weapons yet.”