Neglect of Palestinians in Israel fuels killing spree

Protesters hold signs and chant slogans during a demonstration against violence in Israel (Sebastian Sheiner - AP)

Thomas O Falk

Al-Jazeera  /  October 16, 2021

The Palestinian community in Israel, which makes up one-fifth of the total population, has fallen victim to a murder rate two times higher than Jewish Israelis face.

The deadly crime wave engulfing the Palestinian community in Israel must be urgently addressed after years of being ignored by Israeli authorities, analysts say.

Until now, the Israeli government has neglected the Palestinian sector and, for example, barely set up police stations in the predominantly Palestinian villages and towns. Financial bottlenecks in the police force were often cited as an excuse. Illegal weapons, gangs and an extremely high crime rate are the results.

The violence is an extremely severe problem, Ian Lustick, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, told Al-Jazeera.

“Murder is rampant with systematic failures to investigate properly and extremely rare instances of arrests and convictions of perpetrators,” he said.

While Israel’s police solve 71 percent of murders in Jewish communities, only 23 percent are solved in Palestinian areas.

The Palestinian community, which makes up one-fifth of the total population, has fallen victim to a murder rate two times higher than Jewish Israelis face.

According to statistics, a 17 to 24-year-old Palestinian is 21 times more likely to be shot than a Jewish person in the same age group. For Palestinians aged above 25, the risk is 36 times higher than for Jewish Israelis.

Yaniv Voller, senior lecturer in the politics of the Middle East at the University of Kent, said the problem of violence in Palestinian society has been a long-term one that predated former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 years in power.

“And all governments have ignored it, mainly because dealing with violence in Arab [Palestinian]  society has required great resources, but also posed another potential for clashes between the authorities and the Arab citizens,” Voller told Al-Jazeera.

“Although Arab leaders have often called upon the government to tackle the issue, they have not been keen on cooperating with the authorities, especially the police.”

As a result, 2020 marked a record year with 96 Palestinian citizens of Israel killed.

However, 2021 has pulverized the previous benchmark already. About 100 Palestinians have been murdered since the beginning of the year, often as part of gang wars.

One of the problems is Israeli authorities viewing violence in the Palestinian sector as a security problem, one for the Shin Bet intelligence service, and not the police, Lustick said.

“Just as all public services are underprovided in the Arab sector – education, sewage, recreation, infrastructure, housing, etcetera – so has been policing,” he said.

However, the problem is not only one of a lack of resources and neglect, but “most fundamentally, the segregation of Israeli society and the exclusion of Arabs from the real concerns of most government bodies and most Israeli Jews”, Lustick noted.

“On top of that, but related to it, is the confiscation of enormous amounts of land from Palestinians and Palestinian villages and refusals to approve master plans for building. These circumstances produce severe overcrowding and very high stakes conflicts between families and clans over tiny bits of property.

“Add to that thousands of collaborators and informers, protected from prosecution, and the weapons they and contending gangs and clans can gain access to, and you have a recipe for the bloodshed we are witnessing,” he added.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said a new plan to combat crime in Palestinian communities is being put into effect.

“My government is determined to take action and wage an unceasing, constant and persistent fight, with full force, against crime and violence in the Arab sector,” Bennett said in a statement earlier this month.

Calls to involve Israel’s domestic security agency Shin Bet, which operates primarily in the West Bank, in addressing the problem “is probably not very helpful”, Voller warned.

“The most immediate solution is to funnel more money into crime-prevention programs, strengthening the police and trying to collect arms, which are rife in Arab society. However, this program cannot succeed in the long-term without building up trust between the authorities and the Arab society. No solution is possible without the cooperation with the population with the authorities, either in enforcement or education,” he said.

What could help is the new government in Israel having a shared interest in solving the issue.

“The coalition, on all of its components, is keen to solve the problem. This includes right-wing elements who understand that the violence in the Arab society does not remain confined to Arab villages and towns. The difference is mainly in the approach, with right-wing elements pushing for more use of law enforcement, including the Shabak and the police, at the expense of other measures,” Voller noted.

One of these coalition members is the United Arab List (Ra’am), which is committed to the rights of the Palestinian minority.

“Ra’am is the key to trying to solve the problem of criminal violence in Arab society. Through negotiations to join the coalition, it has earmarked budget and its leadership expresses vocal support for government intervention,” Voller noted.

However, Ra’am, on its own, cannot bring about a change, which requires greater collaboration with local Palestinian authorities, and many do not support Ra’am, said Voller.

What is also likely to be problematic is that the police, like the military, symbolize the Zionist state power, which many Palestinians do not want to identify with for political and ethnic reasons.

“The level of mutual trust is low at this moment. However, the fact is that Arab citizens and political leaders protest against the government inaction, which means that they still have some expectations and hope that the situation can change. It is here, in rebuilding trust, that Ra’am can come into the picture,” Voller said.

Thomas O Falk is a London-based political analyst and freelance journalist