Tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens in Israel protest gun violence, organized crime

Citing years of police indifference and a state policy that has exacerbated gun violence and organized crime among Palestinians in Israel, members of the community consider boycott as a new tactic.

By Suha Arraf

Chairman of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, at the protest against gun violence and organized crime in Palestinian communities in Israel, October 3, 2019. (Courtesy of the Joint List)
Chairman of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, at the protest against gun violence and organized crime in Palestinian communities in Israel, October 3, 2019. (Courtesy of the Joint List)

More than 20,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel protested against gun violence on Thursday, in the northern Galilee town of Majd al-Krum. Demonstrators called out Israeli police for failing to do their job in fighting organized crime in Palestinian communities in Israel.

The protest came in response to the murder of two brothers, Ahmad and Khalil Mana’, who were killed in a brawl in Majd al-Krum earlier this week. The murder took place in broad daylight, as children were leaving a nearby school, not far from the local police station. The third victim, Mohammad Saba’, died of his wounds on Thursday.

The demonstration coincided with a general strike in Palestinian cities and towns inside Israel over the same grievances. Both actions were organized as part of a ‘state of emergency’ declared by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, an umbrella organization that represents the country’s Palestinian citizens, together with the Joint List party and the mayor of Majd al-Krum, Salim Salibi.

Since the start of the year, 72 Palestinian citizens of Israel have fallen victim to gun violence and organized crime in the community. In search of new ways to confront this epidemic, Palestinian clerics, mayors and political representatives called on the Palestinian community to boycott families and businesses associated with arms dealers and gun violence suspects. Some even urged members of the community to boycott weddings and funerals of those implicated in gun violence.

Some lawyers joined the boycott, pledging not to represent clients suspected of gun violence from now on. “One rotten apple can spoil the barrel,” said attorney Noreen Nashef from the city of Taybeh in central Israel. “We all need to play a part in this struggle against violence. As lawyers, we must lead by example. We have a moral part to play, and it is just as much our responsibility as that of the politicians.”

Criminal attorney Maram Hamoud from the village of Deir Hanna in the north wrote in a Facebook post: “It is a matter of principle. It is the moral and ethical thing to do, after realizing that Israel has an intentional policy, dictated by the Defense Ministry and the police, to fuel the flames and let the violence spread in Palestinian towns and cities.”

“Israeli police easily release those suspected of holding [illegal] arms. Even in interrogations, police do not take their job seriously, sometimes purposefully sabotaging an investigation,” added Hamoud. “The criminals walk free among us with full backing from police. Most of them are recruited as informants for the state’s intelligence.”

“The internal security service surveils our every move, so how likely is it that they still cannot figure out who the criminals are?” asked Hamoud. “In Deir Hanna, we know who the shooters are, how is it possible that police have not figured it out yet? They have not even brought anyone in for questioning.”

Hamoud believes this is a political strategy the state is implementing to push Palestinian citizens toward despair, so that they leave the country of their own will. “They legitimize this violence against us by claiming we are dangerous criminals,” he added.

Fidaa Tab’ony, a political activist from Nazareth and a member of the Committee for the War Against Violence, agrees: “It is a deliberate government policy intended to fragment Palestinian society,” she said. “When there is a shooting, the police take an hour to arrive at the scene, and even then, they send only a single cop car. But when there is a demolition of even a dilapidated [Palestinian] home, 30 cop cars and a hundred officers show up.” According to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, 90 percent of illegal firearms in the north of Israel can be traced back to the military.

Boycott is a relative new tactic among Palestinian citizens of Israel. It was previously utilized during the First Intifada, when popular committees targeted the families of informants who cooperated with Israeli authorities, in some cases leading to deadly confrontations.

Not everyone agrees with this tactic as a way to combat organized crime and gun violence, though. The mayor of the northern town of Kufr Yasif, Shadi Shweiri — perhaps the youngest elected official in the last municipal elections — is opposed to an absolute boycott. He believes a boycott of social events where gun carriers roam free could work, but to totally ostracize entire families is “too much. You cannot punish an entire family if one of the sons is a criminal. It will only lead to more violence in our community by pitting those supporting the boycott against those who are against it,” he said.

“The way to combat violence is stricter law enforcement,” added Shweiri. “Police must do their job. We cannot take the law into our own hands. We are not talking about individual criminals, but organized crime. The police lack the political mandate to do something about it. We must apply pressure on them, by going on strikes and taking to the streets, and through the work of members of Knesset and the Higher Arab Monitoring committee.”

In addition to Thursday’s general strike and demonstration in Majd al-Krum, Palestinian citizens will hold local protests on Friday, highlighting Israeli police’s failure to collect illegal arms or hold suspects of organized crime and gun violence accountable.

A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.