Netanyahu: ‘Israeli Arabs Are Going to Have to Make a Choice’

YERUSHALAYIM -
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the scene of Friday's shooting. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the scene of Friday’s shooting. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that he stands by his comments from Motzei Shabbos  – and that he would go through with his plan to ensure that the law was observed by all Israelis equally, Jew and Arab. “We intend to make a great effort to ensure that the rule of law remains supreme in Israel,” Netanyahu said at Sunday morning’s cabinet meeting. “This is the right thing to do. I am not intimidated by the criticism being leveled at me. Following the law goes for all Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike.”

On Motzei Shabbos, Netanyahu visited the site of the Tel Aviv shootings, where two Israelis were murdered in an attack on Friday afternoon. Netanyahu lit a memorial candle for the two Israelis who were killed in the shooting spree conducted by Mashat Melhem, the 29-year-old resident of Ar’araa who is still at large. Funerals for the two victims – Alon Bakal, 26, Hy’d manager of the Simta Café , and Shimon Ruimi, 30 Hy’d, from Ofakim – were set to take place Sunday afternoon. Six others were being treated for wounds of varying degrees.

Police have not yet said whether the shooting should be classified as a terror attack, but indications were mounting that such was the case. Melhem was arrested once before for attempting to steal a weapon from an IDF soldier, which, he told interrogators, he planned to use to carry out a terror attack. He served four years for that crime before being released last year – and returned to his home where guns, both licensed and unlicensed, were apparently common. According to Israeli law, households where a convicted felon lives are not allowed to have weapons in their possession.

In his comments Motzei Shabbos, Netanyahu said that he is “not prepared to accept the concepts of two states within the State of Israel – in which most people observe the law, and a small minority think they are exempt. In those quarters, we have Islamist incitement, and plenty of unregistered weapons that are used to ‘celebrate’ weddings and other events, and used in endless criminal incidents.

“Israel will enforce the law in all areas of the country – the Galilee, the Negev, the Triangle, and everywhere else,” the prime minister said. “Israeli Arabs will have to make a choice. You cannot say that as an Israeli I am entitled to rights, but will fulfill my responsibilities to the Palestinian people. If you choose to be Israeli, you have to be Israeli all the way – and the first obligation of Israelis is to obey the law of the land.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated that his comments applied to Jews as well. “We are not limiting enforcement of the law to one group, as the indictments handed down in the Duma incident show. We oppose any and all murder and violence, as well as any illegal activities, no matter where it takes place.”

Netanyahu added that in his new campaign of law enforcement, he intended to deal with a perennial problem that has never been seriously dealt with – the violation of laws against excessive noise in the early morning hours by mosques, which use loudspeakers to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer at dawn – long before anyone is awake. Residents of cities with large Arab populations, including Yerushalayim, Ramle, and Haifa, have often complained to politicians and police, demanding that something be done to lower the volume of the loudspeakers, but police have consistently refused to act.

Those days are over, Netanyahu said Sunday. Not only will laws on noise pollution be enforced, but he will also instruct officials in charge of building permits to ensure that all construction in the Arab sector is done legally – putting an end to the long-standing problem of illegal Arab building. In addition, he said, police will be instructed to increase their collection of illegal Arab weapons. “We will increase our activities in all these areas,” the prime minister said.