Ayman Odeh reflects fears of Arab minority who feel abandoned by law enforcement amid a spike in gang violence
Oliver Holmes and Quique Kierszenbaum in Tel Aviv
Tue 19 Nov 2019
It’s an unusual request – not one you might expect to hear from an Arab politician in Israel.
Ayman Odeh, however, is clear: Israeli police should launch an immediate anti-crime crackdown in his community’s towns and cities.
“We want them to fight organised crime, we want them to end protection, we want them to close the black market and we want them to collect all the illegal weapons,” he says.
Odeh, who has risen to become the most influential Arab in Israeli politics, is more used to challenging wrongdoing by the police than calling for their help. But a dramatic spike in gang violence has led to a wave of protests by Palestinian citizens of Israel, who feel abandoned by law enforcement.
The country’s Arab minority accounts for around a fifth of the population but suffers more than half of all deaths from violent crime. There have been more than 82 killings so far in 2019.
“Arab citizens don’t have a state behind them,” says Odeh. He blames the security vacuum on decades of neglect and preferential treatment given to investigating crimes against Jews. This year, police solved cases involving the murder of Jews at almost twice the rate as those involving Arabs. Meanwhile, Odeh says, Arab-on-Arab violence is ignored.
Israel’s Arab citizens are Palestinians and their families who remained in the country after its creation in 1948, while hundreds of thousands of others were forced out or fled. They have the right to vote but suffer discrimination and many feel treated like second-class citizens.
The response from authorities to the protests has been mixed. Israeli police reject the allegations and have been publicising their recent operations in Arab communities, especially drug and weapons busts.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has pledged to place more police officers in Arab neighbourhoods. But a study carried out last year found that not only were Arab communities lacking in police presence but widespread distrust of authorities and a lack of cooperation with police officers also blocked investigations.
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