“Abu Yair, Abu Yair,” says a smiling Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in a video that was circulating on the Internet a few days ago, speaking with satisfaction about the fact that in the Arab centers of Israel, some inhabitants are calling him that: Abu Yair, the father of Yair, his son who made the news for extreme right-wing posts and tweets.
To the Arabs, the Palestinians of Israel, Abu Yair-Netanyahu has made many promises for quite some time in order to collect votes for his party, Likud. Starting with the commitment to fight the organized crime that is maintaining a tight grip on villages and towns in Galilee. But so far, very little has changed, and when the police decide to use an iron fist, sometimes innocent people die.
On Tuesday, in Tamra, Ahmed Hijazi was buried. The 22-year-old, close to finishing his studies as a nurse, was killed during a gunfight between policemen and three common criminals. The family was restless on Tuesday, recounting the incident that is paradigmatic of the Gotham-like climate in which people live in Galilee. The authorities are indifferent, say the Palestinians of Israel.
Ahmed was at a friend’s house to prepare for his next exam. He didn’t know that a few feet from the building, the agents of a special unit were waiting for three people who had shot at a house for extortion purposes a few nights before. Upon arriving at the scene, the three refused to stop at the police signal and a shootout began. Ahmed and his friend’s brother, a doctor, came out onto the balcony, drawn by the gunfire. At that point—an investigation has been opened regarding the events—the policemen shot at the young man, killing him instantly and wounding the doctor, since they believed, according to one version of the incident, that they were accomplices of the criminals (one of whom was also killed).
“We went to the balcony,” the doctor said, “and after a few seconds, Ahmed was hit by a bullet in the chest. I shouted ‘don’t shoot,’ but they hit me in the leg. I’m in shock, I can’t believe all this happened.”
Within minutes, dozens of Tamra residents, led by Mayor Suhail Diab, took to the streets to protest the killing of the student. Jafar Farah, of the Haifa-based NGO Mossawa, fighting for equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel, condemned the police in unsparing terms: “The police’s usual way of operating when confronted with citizens who are Arabs has once again claimed innocent victims. During (crime fighting) operations, professional police forces do not shoot at passers-by, ordinary people they encounter in a residential neighborhood.”
For its part, the Israeli police’s northern district command has said that the purpose of the operation had been “to ensure the safety of the residents of Tamra… Pain has been caused, we are sorry about that, but in the long run it will be clearly seen that we sent a clear message to all these armed gangs.”
Words to which the leader of the Arab United List, Ayman Odeh, replied: “The Israeli authorities are strong when they confront (Arab) protesters and weak when they confront criminals. Instead of catching criminals and murderers, the police are busy suppressing protests and letting Arab citizens die.”
In the past few days, police have arrested 27 people in Tamra on suspicion of violence, arson, drug trafficking, robbery and extortion. Similar actions took place in other places. However, as the Palestinians of Israel denounce, this is not enough, and the authorities continue to underestimate the problem, starting with the spread of illegal weapons, including M-16 machine guns, which—there is little doubt—come largely from military bases thanks to the complicity of soldiers ready to sell them to criminals. The consequences can then be seen in the streets of Arab villages and towns in Galilee. Last year, 95 Arabs were murdered in Israel, the highest number in 20 years. The number was approximately 90 in 2019.
“Some politicians prefer to talk about the cultural backwardness of Israeli Arabs who settle their disputes with gun in hand. But that’s all nonsense, the result of prejudice,” Amer tells us, a teacher from Baqa, a town that was recently the scene of feuds and bloody clashes by rival criminal gangs. “If the arms traffic is allowed to flourish for years without intervening, and if the enormous economic gap between Arabs and Jews in Israel is not narrowed, the weaker, poorer, more discriminated-against part of the population ends up turning to crime, to illegality, as the way to survive. This is wrong, but this is the reality.”
Others are saying that the Israeli security forces only deal with the Palestinian minority for political reasons, not caring about anything else. In Jaffa’s Arab neighborhoods, for instance, ten people have been killed since the beginning of 2019, but the police have failed to solve any of those cases.
The killing of Ahmed Hijazi in Tamra is putting a lot of pressure on Mansour Abbas, an Islamist deputy, president of the “Knesset Committee against crime in Arab society” and proponent of the recent political opening towards Prime Minister Netanyahu which split up the United List. Since Nov. 9, Abbas has been waiting for the government to approve and allocate funds for his plan. Abu Yair wants Arab votes, makes promises but fails to deliver. “People are losing hope, they feel abandoned,” the deputy admitted.
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