RAMALLAH: Over 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel face a wave of violence and crimes perpetrated by organized gangs that killed 104 people this year, Israeli-Arab sources told Arab News.
Several factors are attributed to the ugly situation the Israeli Palestinian community faces, with Israeli banks not granting loans to people without construction licenses, forcing the community to turn to the black market or criminal gangs for loans. When they are unable to clear debts in time, they are targeted with violence.
Weapons are stolen from the warehouses of the Israeli military, it is alleged, which end up in the hands of the criminals. The price of a pistol ranges from $3,000 to $6,000, while the M16 assault rifle costs around $21,000, which constitutes a lucrative business for unemployed youths aged 16 to 18.
Most of those arrested by the Israeli police and prosecuted are likely to be contractors, but not crime bosses, sources told Arab News.
According to the Israeli police, seven such gangs are active in the Arab community. Some of their members worked as contractors for Jewish criminal groups before many of these were dismantled around 2016. The vacuum was filled by Arab gangs with tens of thousands of weapons in their hands.
The mistrust of the Israeli police among Israeli Palestinians is a huge obstacle to tackling organized crime in the community. They believe the police do not adequately tackle crime in Arab areas, while the police blame them for not cooperating in crime-fighting.
The Arabs say that if they report the criminals, there will be revenge, and the police will not protect them. They allege that the police confiscate weapons and do not arrest suspects, and that even if they capture a few of them, they do not bring them to trial.
The Israeli police say they need evidence to prosecute suspects, which is difficult due to a shortage of police personnel, budgets or sufficient technology like the Shin Bet has. Therefore, there have been calls to involve Shin Bet to help the police, but there are strong reservations about Shin Bet interfering in civil affairs.
Jalal Bana, a strategic expert from Kufr Yasif in Galilee, told Arab News that the widespread poverty in Arab society is a factor behind the spread of crime and many young men joining criminal gangs.
He added: “It is impossible to eradicate the crime that has been rampant for many years within a year or two. The Israeli police began to fight crime in the Arab community when it became a strategic threat against the Jewish community through its transfer to it.”
He said the police can significantly reduce crime if they wanted, as they succeeded in doing between 1999 and 2001, completely eliminating organized crime gangs in the Jewish community.
Arab-Israeli sources told Arab News that a number of those involved in committing crimes against Arabs have fled to Turkey and the UAE for fear of arrest.
Bana said it is “a very terrifying situation” amid the trade in arms and drugs, extortion, and mayors being forced to award bids and tenders to backers of organized criminal gangs.
Mahmoud Khatib, a writer and lecturer from the village of Kafr Kanna in Galilee, told Arab News that the death toll this year has exceeded 100, which means the police measures have failed to combat crime.
Khatib said it is necessary to intensify police efforts, enact deterrent laws and promote the religious and national values in the Arab community.
“The loss of safety and security saddens us more than the number of people killed by crime, and there are one and a half million Arabs who do not live in safety, but rather in a constant state of fear and terror,” he said.
Despite the Israeli government’s pledge to crack down on violence and illegal weapons and plans to establish more police stations, there has been no letup in criminal activities.
The Israeli police recently established a dedicated unit called Saif (sword) to tackle the problem, a 32,000-strong force seeking to recruit over 5,000 more people. They also seek an increased budget and better technology to defeat criminal gangs.
Meanwhile, Itamar Ben-Gvir, designated minister of national security, said he would fight the violence and crimes in the Arab community decisively. But the Israeli-Arabs feel it would make no difference as “Ben-Gvir presents problems, not solutions, and all his answers are based on violence.”
Separately, Ben-Gvir said he stipulated changing the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque, allowing Jews to pray in the sanctuary as a condition to join the new government coalition under Benjamin Netanyahu.
Jewish prayer in Al-Aqsa Mosque is prohibited, but the Israeli police allow silent prayers to be held, away from Al-Qibli Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Ekrima Sabri, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Arab News: “We are always alert to any surprise that Ben-Gvir or any other insane figure may spring. We affirm our legitimate right as Muslims to pray alone in Al-Aqsa, and we consider Ben-Gvir’s statements aggression against Muslims.”
Sabri stressed: “We will prevent Jews from praying in Al-Aqsa Mosque and its courtyards under all circumstances and at whatever cost.”