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Wave of criminal violence continues across Israel, primarily among the Arab sector

Ben Gvir criticized for incitement and not tackling crime after two killed and two injured in shooting incidents on Saturday

Police at the scene where a man was shot while driving his car, in the Arab city of Shfar'am in northern Israel, May 3, 2023. (Photo: Flash90)

A string of violence continued this weekend as two people were killed and two others wounded in four separate shooting incidents on Saturday.

Among those killed were 19-year-old Diar Umari, from the Israeli Arab village of Sandala, and 30-year-old Selm Hamada from the northern Israel city of Acre.

In the town of Jisr e-Zarka near Caesarea, two other Israeli Arabs were injured in separate shooting incidents that police are investigating as criminal acts.

Umari was killed by a Jewish citizen in a roadside dispute, in which the suspect first shot his gun into the air, and then shot Umari as he ran away.

Video of the scuffle and shooting was uploaded to social media, where it received many views.

Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi, of the Hadash-Ta’al party, blamed Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

"The horrific murder of Diar Omri of Sandala by a resident of Gan Ner is the responsibility of Ben Gvir and Police Commissioner Shabtai, who have called on civilians to carry weapons and shoot, and this is what happened: He carried a weapon, fired and murdered in cold blood."

According to a group called the Abraham Initiatives which campaigns against violence in the Arab sector, twice as many people have died in violent crimes during the first four months of 2023, compared to the last year.

The group said that 70 Arabs have been killed in Israel since the start of the year, 62 of them by gunfire.

Ben Gvir has been blamed for the rise in violence, with opponents criticizing his ‘inciteful’ language and his call for citizens to arm themselves. During the elections, he ran on a campaign promise to improve public safety but, according to crutucs, has been largely silent about the increasing rate of violent crime.

“If the National Security Minister is not functioning, then Likud should please put a deputy minister in that ministry, a special czar in charge of crime and violence, because we are paying with the lives of civilians,” said Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist Ra’am party.

The Arab sector has long suffered from unusually high levels of violence compared to the Jewish population.

Under the previous government, an operation to combat crime in Arab communities – Operation Safe Route – appeared to temporarily reduce some of the violence. That operation came in response to high levels of violent crime in Arab communities in 2021, in which 130 Israeli Arabs were murdered.

The Bennett-Lapid government NIS 2.5 billion (approximately $6.9 million)  to fight crime in the Arab sector.

However, now critics say Ben Gvir has reversed the progress seen last year.

Moran Maimoni, co-director of Public Affairs for the Abraham Initiatives, said the lack of trust between Ben Gvir and Arab leadership is part of the problem.

“A crucial part of Safe Route was the building of trust between the government and the Arab leadership, and Ben-Gvir, from the start, arrived in a position where he can’t work with them; they refuse to speak to him,” Maimoni said.

Another challenge is the lack of development in Arab towns, according to Vice President of the Abraham Initiative Ola Najami-Yousef. .

“Many Arab towns in the north don’t even have a bank or any other means of legally handling financial affairs. Left out of options, they turn to organized criminal syndicates,” Najami-Yousef.

She noted that a shortage of police in the Arab sector is also to blame.

At the same time, Israel Police found that the use of illegal weapons in Israel’s Arab sector increased by 33% in 2022, with Arab citizens responsible for the majority of gun crimes.

"92% of the suspects arrested since the beginning of 2022 in police activity against arms offenders and weapons dealers are Arabs – 3,561 out of 3,871 suspects, and 88% of the defendants in such cases are Arabs. This means 926 out of 1,153 defendants," a senior Israel Police officer reported to a local media source.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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