Conflicts & War

Israel’s Arab minority blames soaring crime rates on institutional racism

By Pablo Duer

Acre, Israel, May 30 (EFE).- With 84 murders in just five months, the Arab minority in Israel has faced an unprecedented rise in violence due to organized crime, possession of illegal weapons, police inaction and what community members describe as institutional racism.

On the evening of Saturday, May 6, Hamada Salem left the gym without realizing that three men and 15 gunshots were waiting for him at his building’s parking lot.

The 25-year-old died three months before he was planning to move to Germany, where his father had secured him a job as a physical education teacher.

“I knew he was in danger. I wanted him to go away for a few years to start a new life there,” his father Yusuf tells Efe.

Salem’s murder was part of a dispute between two Arab criminal families from the northern Israeli city of Acre.

Incidents like this have grown more violent in recent years and 2023 has seen the highest number of killings in Israel’s 75-year history with 84 killings recorded in five months, compared to 32 during the same period last year.

More than 70% of this year’s total number of deaths were among Israel’s Arab minority, which represents 21% of the entire population and is made up of Palestinians and descendants of the Arabs who stayed within Israel after its founding in 1948.

Some 50% of the Arab-Israelis also live below the poverty line, according to official figures.

“Not only does my son’s death have a criminal background but it also responds to Israel’s policies toward Arab society that discriminate between Arabs and Jews,” Yusuf, who teaches civics and political science, warns.

Yusuf denounces Israel’s lack of investment in Arab cities, in the fields of education and infrastructure but also basic services such as the construction of police stations and banks.

Several analysts warn that this could result in the proliferation of criminal groups who fight to gain control over various territories in Arab towns, triggering constant clashes between gang members.

A recurrent complaint from community members is police inaction. Of the 84 murders that have taken place so far this year, only 13 have been solved.

“The police in Israel have always been an oppressive tool towards the Arabs. They never have and never will understand that their main job should be to provide services and security to all citizens, including Arabs,” says Arab-Israeli parliamentarian Aida Touma-Suleiman.

Suha Salman Mousa, the chief of Mossawa, an NGO that advocates for more rights among Israel’s Arab minority group, points out: “I don’t think (national security minister Itamar) Ben Gvir is interested in dealing with this issue.”

The Israeli far-right minister vowed to restore law and order to all residents of Israel during his election campaign in late 2022.

Analysts also spoke of the impact of the growing possession of weapons among the Jewish population in the wake of a series of Palestinian attacks and linked this trend to the spread of illegal weapons among Arab criminal groups.

“The presence of weapons in Arab and Jewish societies is not the reason behind crimes. It is the people who use them. Weapons do not shoot by themselves, but in Arab society, they use weapons to solve any dispute no matter how silly it is,” says Alon Levavi, who served 34 years in the Israeli police until he retired in 2019.

Levavi believes the problem is not a lack of will among police officers but a lack of personnel paired with the challenges officers face when solving crimes in Arab towns.

“Witnesses are not only uncooperative but they even sometimes clean up the crime scene and delete the videos,” he adds.

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