The Joint Arab List, which became the Knesset’s third largest faction in the recent election, is wasting no time.
Ayman Odeh, who leads the List, last week called for general strike to protest the rising crime rate in Arab communities and towns across the country. Many Arab communities demonstrated against what they called the lack of government involvement in combatting crime and violence.
Israeli Arab communities indeed suffer from serious problems, including illegal weapons in almost every home, domestic violence and violence against women. Crime is on the rise in many Arab towns, and murders between clans have become routine. Arab MKs are blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gilad Erdan personally for what they perceive as a lack of initiative in addressing these problems in the Arab sector.
There are many factors contributing to the rise in crime in Israel’s Arab society, beginning already with the family-unit structure and including certain Arab traditions and customs. Add to these underlying issues like the difficult economic and social conditions in the Arab communities and the general animosity toward the Israeli establishment, and it was inevitable that the rate of crime would rise.
There is no doubt that something needs to be done to address these problems. Until now, many Arab towns do not receiving sufficient government funds to meet these challenges. For example, there are far too few police stations in the Arab communities, leaving them with little deterrence and almost no law enforcement.
The Israeli government has been making efforts in recent years to invest in community resources in the Arab sector. Recently, four new police stations have been set up and an operation launched to confiscate illegal weapons. Anyone returning a weapon will not be prosecuted by the authorities. In addition, the government has promised to recruit additional Arabic-speaking police officers to serve in the troubled areas.
While there has been neglect on the part of the government, a big part of the problem is that senior Arab officials blame the Israeli (read: Jewish) establishment for all their ills, without examining some of the underlying and fundamental problems plaguing their own society.
It is evident that much of the rising crime is the result of incitement by Arab political leaders and adherence to violence traditions. For example, there is a tradition in the Arab world of shooting guns to celebrate a wedding. Many people have been wounded or even killed by this dangerous practice, which is common not only in Israel, but across the Arab world.
Another problem unique to Arab culture is murder for the sake of family dignity. Women (mothers, daughters, sisters) are often killed if there is even a suspicion that they had intimate relations prior to marriage, or if they are suspected of having broken some other family value or tradition. This problem is more common among Bedouins in the south of the country, but can be found throughout the Arab Israeli communities.
In recent years, the Israeli police have refrained from entering several Arab communities in the north of the country out of fear for their own safety. There is a great deal of hostility among Arab citizens towards the Israeli establishment, and many consider the police their enemy. For this reason, complaints are never filed for many crimes. This lack of cooperation only encourages more violence and crime. Those times that police officers have entered Arab communities to combat crime, they have been attacked with stones and firebombs.
The Arabs in Israel need to understand that if they want peace and security, they must allow the police do their job. The distrust between the police and the Arab citizens is not helping either side, and only increases crime and violence.
But the State of Israel does need to invest more in the Arab sector. It is the government’s responsibility. At the same time, without the cooperation of the Arab leadership and citizens, there is little that the police can do. Arab politicians and government officials must educate their constituents and encourage them to cooperate with the police, and they must stop promoting division and inciting against the establishment. They need to acknowledge the real and present problems in the Arab communities and allow the police to properly enforce the law.