Everyone in Israel is talking about the explosion of violent crime among Arab citizens. As of today there have been 95 murders of Israeli Arabs in 2021. Extrapolated to 12 months and divided by the Arab population of Israel, this comes out to an annual rate of 6 murders per 100,000 people. This does not approach Chicago’s murder rate of 29 per 100,000 (in Chicago’s black community this number rises to 66!), or El Salvador’s 52, but it is still 12 times greater than the 0.5 per 100,000 rate among Israel’s Jews.
It’s also true that the police solve fewer cases in the Arab community. Ha’aretz reported that only 23% of murders with Arab victims were solved, compared to 71% of those in which Jews were murdered. So why are there more murders of Arabs, and why aren’t the police solving them? There are numerous reasons.
Let’s take the number of murders first. One important subgroup consists of women murdered by family members “to preserve family honor,” which means that either they engaged in illicit sexual activity, gave the impression that they did, or disobeyed the family’s instructions regarding marriage or life-style. Many of the 13 Arab women murdered so far this year fall into this category, although it’s not easy to be sure, since it is difficult to find witnesses who will testify in such cases.
Then there is the problem of organized criminals who engage in turf wars, which seems to be a significant problem this year. This is exacerbated by the large number of weapons in their hands. Although Israel has strict gun laws, Arab criminals have homemade “Carlo” automatic rifles or weapons stolen from the IDF in one of the embarrassing break-ins to IDF bases.
The number of murders is multiplied by the tradition that honor requires revenge. So when someone is killed, family members seek revenge, sometimes by murdering family members of the killer if it’s not possible to reach the presumed killer himself.
Some argue that the problem is that neglect of the problem by the police has allowed lawlessness to flourish, but while that might be true to some extent, keep in mind that obedience to the law is only in a small degree due to fear of arrest and punishment. Most of the time citizens obey the laws of their state because they are generally in agreement with them. Many Arab citizens of Israel – certainly not all of them, but a large enough number – are alienated from the state, which they accuse of discriminating against Arabs, and they blame it for their personal misfortunes.
Even successful individuals sometimes have a sense of grievance, abetted by politicians and Arab media pushing the Palestinian Narrative. Even though Israeli Arabs did not become refugees, many still believe that they are the rightful owners of the land, and that Jewish sovereignty is a usurpation of justice. The idea develops that the laws of the state don’t apply to them, because the Jewish regime that stands behind them is illegitimate.
This is true even though most of the victims of Arab criminals are Arabs – although there is plenty of Arab crime against Jews as well, especially in the Negev and Galilee where crime by Bedouins has become endemic. Unfortunately the increased crime, especially if it’s coupled with inefficient enforcement of laws, leads to its normalization in society. More and more, crime is seen as an option by young people in Arab towns. This is what is going on now, and it’s particularly noticeable with regard to the crime of crimes, murder.
One indication that alienation from the state – or outright enmity to it – is a big part of the problem is the way Israeli Arab criminals moved seamlessly from ordinary crime to anti-Jewish pogroms in May, during the most recent small war with Hamas.
Why are the police failing to stop it? One reason is the lack of cooperation they receive. And this in turn has several causes: “good citizens” fear the retaliation of organized gangs, which don’t hesitate to take violent revenge on informers and their families. But most important is a lack of trust in the police, who are seen as enemies since the two intifadas, in which police faced rioting Israeli Arabs. Notably in October 2000, 12 Israeli Arabs were killed by police at riots around Umm el-Fahm. There is also the general distrust of the “Jewish regime.” This manifests itself in numerous ways, such as the disinclination of Arab Israelis to get the coronavirus vaccinations that are available to them in precisely the same way as they are to Jews. As a result, all of the 55 towns and cities in Israel that are considered “red” today – with the highest infection rates – are Arab-majority areas. A few weeks ago I heard an interview on the radio with an Arab, an educated professional man, who had recovered from a severe case of Covid. The interviewer asked him why he hadn’t gotten vaccinated, and he responded that “we [Arabs] don’t trust the government” that was telling them to do so. This, even though many doctors and nurses in Israel are Arabs, and have made public statements about the need to be vaccinated.
Many Arabs choose to blame the police for the prevalence of crime in Arab areas. And until recently there has been an unbalance of resources dedicated to Arab towns. Now the shock created by the wave of murders has prompted a number of initiatives to improve the situation. More officers, including Arab officers, need to be assigned to Arab towns. Police and prosecutors must remove the leaders of the crime families and their more violent members from society. The police have carried out several operations to confiscate illegal weapons, and that has to continue. In the Negev, a large-scale campaign will be required to take back control of the region from the criminals.
Israel has high-tech tools that have been used successfully against terrorists. Now they have to be applied to criminals. We’ve dedicated an enormous amount of our resources to fighting our external enemies. Now we have to stop neglecting the internal ones.
But don’t kid yourself. Nothing will change until the great majority of Arab citizens take the situation in hand themselves. The heads of big clans will have to put on the brakes, and tell the young men of the community to find jobs that do not involve criminal activity. Perhaps Arab women themselves will have to force an end to the tradition of “honor killings.” If Israel’s Arabs don’t want to live in a violent culture, they’ll have to make their culture less violent.