In June 2017, a two-year-old girl was shot during a drive-by shooting in the Palestinian town of Umm El-Fahm. According to the Israeli press, the toddler was home with her mother when armed strangers opened fire on their home. The mother too was injured and both had to be taken to a local hospital.
That same day, according to the same report, there was a shooting in the town of Sakhnin with no injuries reported and a third violent attack in the village of Kfar Mghar where a 19-year-old was stabbed. All three towns are Palestinian towns within the boundaries of the state of Israel as it was defined between 1948-1967 and so they are Israeli citizens.
A headline in Ynet reported that 10 “Arab Israelis,” as the Palestinian citizens of Israel are often called, were killed within the first few months of 2017. “The government has abandoned its Arab citizens, while the police busies itself with giving out fines, after which they swiftly disappear,” one man says, repeating a claim made often by Palestinian citizens of Israel that the Israeli police do not intervene when “Arabs kill Arabs” and murder cases often go unsolved. This violence does not spare children, who are often caught in the crossfire.
According to a report in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz in 2015, “Israeli Arabs” were involved in 59 percent of the murders in Israel. The Palestinian citizens of Israel make up about 21 percent of the total population of citizens in Israel so this is close to three times their share. (Palestinians who live in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip do not have Israeli citizenship and are not counted as citizens). The report goes on to say that “Arabs also committed other offenses at a disproportionately high rate, accounting for 55 percent of attempted murders, 47 percent of robberies, 58 percent of arson incidents, 32 percent of thefts and property damage incidents and 27 percent of drug trafficking cases.”
Debate over the causes of the violence
In a book titled Violence and Crime in the Arab Society in Israel: Institutional Conspiracy or Crimes of Culture? Dr. Nohad Ali of Haifa University illustrates the contradiction-laden reality of violence within this community. The book was published in 2014 and is a result of five years of fieldwork and analysis of police records and data. One of the first things that Dr. Ali presents is that the prevalence of violence among the Palestinian citizens of Israel stands in contrast with the general standards in Arab societies in general, where violence and crime tend to be low.
One theory, which he calls the conspiracy explanation of this phenomenon, states that Israeli institutions are quite happy to let the violence continue because as long as the Arab population of Israel, which is seen as a sort of fifth column, are busy with crime they will stay away from dealing with issues that the state of Israel fears — which are their rights as a Palestinian minority made up of non-Jews but living within a State that declares itself to be Jewish.
Therefore, the conspiracy theory claims, the conditions of the Palestinian citizens of Israel are placed very low on the State’s priority list and and very low on the priority list of the Israeli police — which, unlike police departments in the U.S., is a national police force. And, they claim, this is the reason for the systemic neglect by all law enforcement agencies when it comes to these communities and the reason for the general discrimination against this group within Israel.
Others who try to explain this phenomenon claim that violence has deep roots in Arab culture — thus the name “crimes of culture.” Violence is particularly rampant among Muslims, so they claim, and so there is no point in investing resources to solve the problem because it is a hopeless case. Those who use this rationale, Dr. Ali states, also point to the violence one sees in Arab countries which neighbor Israel’s borders as proof.
Either way, the statistics are staggering. The Palestinian citizens of Israel, as stated earlier, make up about 21 percent of the population; yet in 2012, according to Dr. Ali’s sources, the percentage of murder cases committed by members of this community made up 70 percent of the murder cases in the entire country. Forty percent of the victims were from that community as well.
Sheikh Kamel Riyan, director of the Iman Center for a Safe Society, claims that the history of neglect by the institutions of the State — compounded with the poverty, harsh economic conditions, decline of the education system and lack of resources for young people — is at the root of the crime and violence among “Arabs” in Israel.
Poverty rates are so severe that close to 60 percent of Arab households live below the poverty line, which is three times higher than among Jewish households.
Palestinian citizens have made every effort to integrate as full citizens into a state that, for lack of a better word, forced itself upon them. But hard as they may try, the legal, systemic, and day-to-day reality in which they live gives this community no space to breathe, much less to thrive. With a collapsing school system, poverty, and lack of opportunities for young people, one does not need to be a social scientist to see that this spells trouble.
A story in Al-Monitor from January 2014 quotes figures from the northern district of the Israeli police department, according to which, over a period of two years, “the Israel police seized a total of 2,000 guns and collected an additional 200 illegal weapons, which were handed over willingly by their owners.” According to this story, workshops to manufacture makeshift weapons were also discovered during that period.
“It is common knowledge,” I was told by a Palestinian friend who asked to remain anonymous, “you can get a semi-automatic for a few hundred dollars, and you can get it right now if you want, and the same is true for drugs.” The way it works, this friend told me, “Jewish Israelis connected to gangs steal from the Israeli army armories and then sell the guns on the black market. There are thousands of guns readily available.”
Another friend from a Palestinian town in Israel described to me a murder in broad daylight and said this was not an uncommon sight particularly in the north of the country and in what is known as the “Muthalath” or triangle, which includes the towns of Tira, Taybe and Qalansawe. But the real victims are innocent bystanders and the community that is forced to live in fear.
Dr. Ali also states that the “Arab-Israeli” society is “flooded with weapons. … Guns are used in celebrations, weddings, as well as violent crime.” Between the years 2010 and 2012, Ali writes, “there were an average of 850 cases of illegal shooting in the Arab communities alone and, in the eyes of the members of the community, the fault lays with the Israeli police, who do not come in to enforce law and order and do not confiscate the guns.” Ali also shows that from 2012 to 2013 there was an increase in use of weapons for murders, from 63 percent to 75 percent.
Rampant systemic discrimination
In 2003, Justice Theodor Or, former member of the Israeli Supreme Court, explicitly acknowledged that the Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel suffer systemic discrimination.
“The Arab citizens of Israel live in a reality in which they experience discrimination as Arabs. This inequality has been documented in a large number of professional surveys and studies, has been confirmed in court judgments and government resolutions, and has also found expression in reports by the state comptroller and in other official documents.” (Supreme Court Justice Theodore Or, Report of the State Commission of Inquiry into the Events of October 2000, 2003, vol. I, para. 19, p. 33.)
This report was generated by the Or Commission, which was assigned to investigate the reasons for the clashes of October 2000, where Israeli police shot and killed thirteen Palestinian citizens of Israel during a protest. The racism according to Judge Or, “included structural and systematic discrimination.” The commission stated unequivocally that “the state did not do enough to grant equality to its Arab citizens and to eliminate discrimination and deprivation.”
However, a piece published in Ha’aretz 10 years after the Or Commission presented its findings, claims that not only were the findings and recommendations not implemented, “the government has been promoting programs that are liable to reignite tensions across the country.” One such plan seeks to uproot tens of thousands of Bedouin Arab citizens from their land in the Naqab desert. In another report, Hassan Jabareen, the general director of Adalah,The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, writes, “Today, in 2017, the Israeli police continue to have very light trigger fingers when it comes to Arab suspects.”
The Inequality Report, a report also published by Adallah in March 2011, says that the inequalities between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel “span all fields of public life and have persisted over time. Direct and indirect discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel are ingrained in the legal system and in governmental practice.” When it comes to issues of citizenship, immigration, residence, employment, land ownership and countless other day to day issues, the Palestinian citizens of Israel are subjected to discrimination.
The community of Palestinian citizens of Israel is extremely young and poor. Over 50 percent of the population is under the age of 20; 41 percent is under 14. “Arab-Israeli” children account for 25 percent of all school-age children in Israel. Now add to that an easy access to weapons and a police force that is incapable at best and uninterested at worst — but either way is absent — and the inevitable result is a serious problem of violent crime.
It is unlikely that the problems of the community of Palestinian citizens of Israel will be resolved without resolving the problems of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and the refugee camps across the Middle East. These problems are the result of the Zionist conquest of Palestine and will be resolved once that conquest is brought to an end.
Top Photo: Israeli riot police officers scuffle with Arab men in Arab village of Ara, northern Israel, Monday, Sept. 19, 2016. About 50 right wing activists protested in Ara outside the home of Nashhat Milhem, who killed three people in a shooting rampage in Tel Aviv in January 2016 before police killed him in a shootout. The demonstrators demanded Israel deport Milhem’s family and shouted “There is no Palestine.” They arrived under heavy police escort to the village, where locals held a counter demonstration. (AP Photo)