Palestinian Israelis are seeking to raise awareness against violent crimes among the Arab communities that activists say Israeli law enforcement has historically ignored.

Palestinian protesters hold signs at a demonstration against violence near the house of Public Security Minister Omer Barlev in the central Israeli town of Kokhav Yair, September 25, 2021.
Palestinian protesters hold signs at a demonstration against violence near the house of Public Security Minister Omer Barlev in the central Israeli town of Kokhav Yair, September 25, 2021. (AP)

Palestinian citizens of Israel are seeking to raise awareness about the spiralling rate of violent crime in their communities, using the hashtag “Arab lives matter” but unlike a similar campaign in the United States, they have called for more policing, not less.

The Palestinian minority, which makes up around 20 percent of Israel's population, has been convulsed by violent crime in recent years, with a rate in killings that far exceeds its share of the population and is driven by criminal gangs and family disputes.

Activists say Israeli authorities have historically ignored deadly crime among Palestinians.

Israeli officials have touted a number of initiatives in recent years, including larger budgets for law enforcement in Palestinian communities, but police say community leaders could do more to help them.

At least 88 Palestinian citizens have been killed in Israel so far this year, according to the Abraham Initiatives, an Israeli civil society organisation fostering Jewish-Palestinian coexistence.

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pledged last month, that, after years of neglect his newly inaugurated government would combat violent crime plaguing Palestinian communities.

That was one of the top demands of a small Arab party that made history by joining his narrow coalition.

'Inspiration is from the Black Lives Matter movement'

After another two people were killed in Palestinian towns last week, blogger Sheren Falah Saab tweeted “#Arab_lives_matter” in Hebrew with the aim of opening a dialogue with Israel's Jewish majority.

“The inspiration is from the Black Lives Matter movement, but it’s important to note that the violence in Arab society in Israel is not brought on by the police or law enforcement, it’s between Arabs,” she said. 

“It’s important to say there’s neglect and lack of enforcement by the police, and lack of follow-up when murders are committed,” she added.

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Saab's statement went viral on social media. 

Lawmakers, activists and organisations joined in the chorus, as did the minister in charge of the police.

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'Decades of neglect'

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-lev blamed the problem on “decades of neglect, disregard and fear of getting into the thick of the problems of the Arab sector and the prevailing assumption that ‘as long as they kill each other, then this is their problem.'”

“In the first 100 days since taking office, I did more than was done in last decades dealing with crime in the Arab sector. Yes, #Arab_Lives_Matter,” he tweeted.

Israel's Palestinian citizens have citizenship, including the right to vote, but face discrimination in housing and other sectors. 

Most speak fluent Hebrew, and they have an outsized presence in universities and medicine, among other professions.

They also have close family ties to the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and largely identify with their cause, leading many Israeli Jews to view them with suspicion. 

Within the community, there is widespread distrust of the mostly Jewish Israeli police but also growing calls for them to intervene more forcefully to combat violence.

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Last weekend, protesters gathered outside Bar-Lev's home to call for more policing.

“I want the police to do its job properly. Enough,” said Muna Khalil, whose son was shot and killed in June. She criticised the police for not doing enough to find her son’s killer and bring him to justice. “They know who killed my son, but they are not doing the right thing.”

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Source: AP