Palestinians decry Israel police 'complicity' in soaring murder rate
Dozens of Palestinian citizens of Israel joined a sit-in in Jerusalem on Wednesday to denounce police "complicity" amid a record-high murder rate in their community.
The protest tent was erected on Monday for a three-day demonstration outside the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Participants called on police to ensure their safety and dismantle the organised crime gangs that have plagued Palestinian towns and cities.
Mohammad Barakeh, a former MP and head of the High Follow-Up Committee, an umbrella civil society organisation representing Israel's Palestinian citizens, told Middle East Eye the state is "complicit".
"There is a frightening increase in the size of crime gangs in the Palestinian society and victims are falling one after the other," he said. "Israel is pretending as if the matter does not concern it."
At least 78 Palestinian citizens of Israel, including six women and two children, have been killed in a wave of murders since the start of 2023, in a sharp increase in homicide rates compared with recent years.
In 2022, a total of 116 fatalities were recorded, according to the NGO Abraham Initiatives.
The current rate could see that almost doubled by the end of 2023.
'We believe that Israel is complicit with the criminal gangs, aiming to exhaust, drain and preoccupy the Arab community with the issue of personal security'
- Mohammad Barakeh, head of the High Follow-Up Committee
The sit-in on Wednesday was also attended by politicians, community leaders and families of those who lost their lives in the criminal violence.
Mohammad Lotfi, the father of Zahi Lotfi, who was killed in October in a crime-related shootout which involved the police, told MEE the Israeli state needs to do more.
"We demand from the fascist Israeli government, which I don't believe in, to fight crime in the Palestinian community," he said.
"We also urge Palestinian citizens of Israel to join us in more and bigger rallies to resolve this crisis."
Barakeh accused Israeli authorities of enabling the violence to keep Arab citizens distracted from campaigning for the political and civil rights of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories.
"We believe that Israel is complicit with the criminal gangs, aiming to exhaust, drain and preoccupy the Arab community with the issue of personal security," he told MEE.
"With the same force, we will confront both the issue of organised crime as well as the crimes that Israel commits against the Palestinian people."
Neglect and discrimination
Palestinian citizens of Israel are the descendants of the native population which was violently displaced by Zionist militias during the creation of Israel in 1948.
For decades, they have suffered under discriminatory laws and practices imposed by the Israeli state.
According to Abraham Initiatives, crime and violence in the community are a result of "under-policing and tense relations with the Israeli police".
The NGO says 50 percent of overall violent crime in the country affects Palestinians, even though they comprise only 20 percent of Israel's population.
The presence of illegal weapons in Palestinian towns is rampant, with gangs - involved in the drug trade and arms trade, prostitution and other crimes - taking advantage.
Representatives of the Palestinian population say they have seen enough evidence to suggest that Israeli police deliberately turn a blind eye to the illegal smuggling of arms, if not contribute to it.
"This is based on accusations made by some Israeli officials against each other in regards to providing protection to gang leaders and slowing investigations," said Raed Salah, a prominent religious and social figure among Palestinian citizens of Israel.
"The position taken by Israeli institutions on how to deal with this tragedy is suspicious," he added, vowing that bigger protests will be planned in the coming weeks to pressure police into more action.
Israeli police officials dismiss claims suggesting they are complicit.
In 2021, the police inaugurated a department dedicated to fighting crime in the Arab community and "restoring security to the streets".
The department was dismantled earlier this year as the crime rate continued to spike.
Moreover, Israeli police have been slow in solving murders. Out of 42 cases recorded by April, only two were solved, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Meanwhile, more than 83 percent of homicides in the Jewish community have been solved.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.