Arab citizens of Israel observed a general strike and held protests on Thursday over a wave of deadly violence within the minority community.
Schools and businesses in Arab towns and villages were closed following a call by local and national Arab leaders, and newly elected Arab members of Knesset skipped the official swearing-in out of solidarity.
Police say there have been more than 70 killings in Arab communities this year, nearly as many as in each of the past two years, when Arabs made up more than half of all murder victims nationwide. Earlier this week, two brothers and a third individual were killed in a brawl involving guns and knives in the northern town of Majd al-Krum.
Arab leaders say Israeli police largely ignore the violence in their communities, everything from family feuds and mafia turf wars to domestic violence and so-called honor killings.
An Arab coalition made major gains in last month’s parliamentary elections, and has made improving public safety one of its top priorities. The 13 newly elected lawmakers of the Joint List did not attend the swearing-in at the Knesset because they were taking part in the strike.
“A racist government has neglected us and the police have abandoned our neighborhoods to gangs and criminals,” Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, tweeted. He said the strike was to demand weapons searches, tougher action against organized crime and higher budgets for education.
“If there is no other choice, we will block streets to return safety to the streets,” he said.
The police adamantly reject the allegations of indifference and say they are doing everything they can to stem the violence.
“Police are continuing to speak to the leaders of the communities in order to try and prevent the incidents from taking place, but at the same time also working inside the communities, patrolling more,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
He said seven new police stations have been opened in Arab communities this year and there are plans to open eight more in the coming months. This year alone, police have confiscated 4,000 weapons and arrested some 2,800 people on weapons-related charges, according to Rosenfeld.
But he said local leaders need to do more to cooperate with police and to prevent violence.
“It has to come also from inside the community,” he said. “They can’t just, you know, decide at a wedding to open fire and shoot in the air. These are basic issues that have to be dealt with by the leaders of the communities.”