Mohammad Makram Balawi
Middle East Monitor / August 2, 2023
The Palestinian community within what is known today as the state of Israel was devastated on 8 June by a heinous crime in Nazareth that claimed the lives of five innocent people, including children. Unfortunately, this was not the first time that an organized criminal gang, many of which are connected to well-known families, has committed such an atrocity. In fact, such crimes occur almost daily within the Palestinian Israeli community, leaving us to question why crime rates are so high and who benefits from them.
According to recent reports by the Palestine Information Centre, there were 25 murders in Israel’s Palestinian community in June alone. Among the victims were two women and one child. The total number of such victims since the beginning of 2023 stood at 97 by the end of June, including 11 women and 10 children. These statistics are shockingly higher than the crime rate in Jordan, the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip combined, even after adjustment for population differences.
To make matters worse, the Israeli occupation police appear to be complicit in these crimes, as they have released many of the suspects after arrest, claiming that they received directives to do so from higher-up in the Israeli government, or that the Palestinian community refuses to cooperate with the police. The latter is simply untrue, as the Palestinian community has been more than willing to cooperate with law enforcement in this regard.
It is clear that the Israeli government is more concerned with perpetuating crime than stopping it. While Palestinians are denied access to weapons to defend themselves, these criminal gangs have no trouble obtaining guns and funding, even from the Israeli army and police ordnance depots. TalabSane MK explained in a TV interview that, “Official statistics show that 60 per cent of homicides [in Israel] are committed in the Arab [Palestinian] community, which constitutes only 20 per cent of Israeli society; which means that homicides in the Arab community are three times more than the Jewish community. They also reveal that more than 80 per cent of these homicides are committed with firearms, and 90 per cent of these firearms used in these crimes are coming from Israeli military and police ordnance depots.”
It is hard to believe that the occupation state cannot identify the perpetrators of these crimes, especially given that the weapons used in these crimes come from Israeli military sources.
In a recent assessment session, the Commissioner General of the Israeli Police, Yaakov Shabtai, admitted that most of those responsible for the crimes are agents cooperating with Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency. According to Almog Cohen MK, the Israeli security authorities condone the possession and distribution of drugs by those who spy on Palestinian citizens and provide security information to Shin Bet.
Police hands are thus tied in dealing with these criminals because they enjoy a kind of immunity, although Shabtai himself, in a leaked recording of a conversation, told far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir that they [Palestinians] are violent in nature: “There’s nothing we can do,” he said. “They murder each other. It’s in their nature. That’s the mentality of the Arabs [Palestinians].”
The reality of the situation, therefore, pushes Palestinian citizens towards three options that suit the occupation state. First, they could be driven into forming armed groups to confront organized crime gangs, which will lead to fighting within the Palestinian community, and in this way — from the Israeli perspective — “the enemy inside” would be neutralized. Second, Palestinians could demand the intervention of Shin Bet to oversee the investigation of murders. While Shin Bet is able to expose any attack carried out against Israeli Jews within hours, the Israeli police are unable to stop this carnage against the Palestinian community; Shin Bet involvement will give the Israeli government even more control over Palestinian life, and reduce their status practically to that of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The third option is to make life so unbearable for Palestinians that they will be forced to consider migration, which has always been the main goal of Israel’s occupation policy. In Zionist terminology, this is known as “silent transfer”; others call it forced displacement.
Mansour Abbas MK tried to address the growing crime rates by joining the Bennett-Lapid government, but his efforts proved futile. In fact, crime rates have increased since then. Now, he is offering Netanyahu a deal to take over the file of crime within the Palestinian community in exchange for joining his government. However, the Israeli far right does not recognize the Palestinian people or want them to have a political presence. The Palestinian presence in the Knesset is merely decorative, and Abbas’s joining the Bennett-Lapid government was an exception due to the then ruling coalition’s weakness and the urgent need for an alliance with a Palestinian bloc.
The Israeli policy of perpetuating crime within Palestinian society is connected to the larger plan to Judaize the state’s demographics and displace the indigenous Palestinian population from the land. This policy is not limited to the West Bank, where the Israeli occupation carries out killings and imposes restrictions on the Palestinian population, but also extends to criminal gangs operating within Israel’s Palestinian community. By sowing the seeds of chaos and violence, these gangs contribute to the Israeli government’s efforts to destabilize Palestinian communities and make life unbearable for the Palestinian people in order to drive them out of their own land.
Mohammad Makram Balawi is a Palestinian writer and academic based in Istanbul and the president of Asia Middle East Forum