July 12, 2023 | The Algemeiner

Internal Violence Has Become a Nightmare for Israeli Arabs

July 12, 2023 | The Algemeiner

Internal Violence Has Become a Nightmare for Israeli Arabs

The wave of violence and crime among Israeli Arabs has become a major problem. Among the latest victims are Omar and Muhammad Khaldi, father and son, who were gunned down in northern Israel in late June. They were among five Israeli Arabs murdered by members of their own community in under 24 hours.

Former Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheikh called the situation “intolerable.” That was in 2016, when 26 Arabs were murdered from January to early June. In roughly the same amount of time in 2023, that number stands at 112, according to Haaretz.

Drive-by shootings and murders in broad daylight have now become shockingly common in Israel’s Arab sector. The majority are perpetrated by crime families, such as the January killing of gang member Ali Jarwasha in Ramla. But mafiosos are not the only victims. Innocent civilians often pay the price. In separate incidents in 2022, two children on playgrounds succumbed to gunshot wounds from stray bullets. In January 2023, Sleem Mousa, a deaf and mute laborer who could not hear the gunfire around him, was killed by another stray bullet.

Multiple factors contribute to this difficult situation, many of them intertwined. The Israel Police has described the abundance of illegal weapons in the country as a “strategic threat.” A 2020 Knesset report found that 400,000 illegal weapons were circulating in Israel. Responding to the proliferation of illegal weapons, the Knesset passed a temporary law in March 2023 that allowed Israeli police officers to search for weapons without a warrant.

Many of the killings are part of turf wars between competing crime families. In early June, presumed members of the Hariri crime family murdered five members of the rival Bakri gang at a carwash near Nazareth. These squabbles even reached Dubai, where a fight between rival families left one Israeli Arab dead in May.

The precipitous rise of Arab syndicates followed the decline of Jewish ones. Israel’s government got serious about tackling the mob after a 2003 assassination attempt on a criminal boss left three innocent bystanders dead in Tel Aviv.

Some say that the current problems can be attributed to the financial challenges facing Israeli Arabs, as well as the insular nature of the community. In some cases, rather than going to Israeli banks, Israeli Arabs borrow from within their community out of distrust or disdain for the Israeli system.

But it should also be noted that the banks, too, can be reluctant to meet the borrowing needs of Israeli Arabs, who often lack the collateral required to secure loans. That’s when loan sharks and other criminal elements come into play. When borrowers are unable to repay their debts, the sharks sometimes resort to violence as a warning to others who might be expected to pay.

Alarmingly, there may also be external factors contributing to the wave of violence. During Israel’s May 2021 conflict with Hamas, Israel was caught off-guard by massive riots of Arabs attacking Jews and vice versa in mixed cities where the two groups cohabitate. Later that year, an Israel Police official said that Iran-backed Hezbollah is smuggling weapons to Israeli Arabs to use against Jews in future conflicts. Concerns linger about the way in which Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other regime proxies — through a so-called nerve center based in Beirut — may be manipulating the Israeli Arab community, or even preparing it for a future conflict.

Lesser-known factors also drive the murder rate. After familial disagreements, a Taybeh man stabbed his wife and two young sons to death in May. And in early June, a homosexual Druze woman was killed in her car after publicly revealing her sexual orientation.

The previous Israeli government earmarked nearly $10 billion over a five-year period for improving Arab communities, including $750 million specifically to tackle violence and crime. Clearly, the long-term effects of this investment have yet to be felt. And it is unclear whether the current government will take a similar approach.

According to a recent survey, more than 60 percent of Israeli Arabs feel personally threatened by the violence, but only 41 percent trust the government’s ability to stop it. Around 30 percent see it as an internal issue that should be tackled by leaders of the community, but only 6 percent think Arab Knesset members can find a solution. This low percentage points to the rift between Arab citizens and Arab politicians. But while some Arab politicians are busy pointing fingers at Israel, pragmatic leaders have focused on the process of building trust between the Arab sector and the security establishment.

Israel must tackle this crisis head on. This requires efforts to halt the proliferation of weapons, weaken the position of Arab crime families, undermine the Iranian axis, and help improve the financial challenges that could be fueling the crisis. And Israeli Arabs must also take the wheel to get their community to correct course.

David May (@DavidSamuelMay) is a research manager and senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Haisam Hassanein (@HaisamHassanei1) is an adjunct fellow. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.