Palestinian Community in Israel – A Different Fight for Survival

Unlicensed Guns Threaten a Young Generation
A Palestinian boy carries a photo of Tawfiq Zaher. (Supplied)

Tawfiq Zaher, a Nazareth artist, went to pick up his granddaughter from nursery as he used to do every afternoon. On their way home, on a main road, there was a shooting targeting a bakery next to them so he jumped to cover his granddaughter with his body. A gunshot killed him instead of another young man.

Ahmed Hegazy was a student in a nursing school. He was studying for exams at his colleague’s house when they heard loud voices. Hegazy went out to see what was going on, but he got shot and fell dead.

Ahmad, Mahmoud and their parents were asleep at their home when a stranger broke into the house and shot all of them dead.

By the end of January, there were more than 420,000 unlicensed guns in various Israeli Palestinian towns, which means that one in every five households owned a gun.

The Israeli army is the primary source of these guns, where 80% of them are obtained by criminal gangs from the army. Although such seizures are officially described as “theft from military camps”, most of these “thefts” took place in coordination with elements inside the army.

While the Arab community was highly agitated, and was actively protesting to put an end to such phenomena, demanding the army and the police forces to unveil the perpetrators, a major theft of ammunition took place.

Early January, 93,000 bullets were stolen from Tze’elim military training base in southern Israel, which is considered one of the most heavily-guarded and secured bases, with all its high-tech surveillance system and military guards.

Until now little is known about the method of the theft, but it is evident that some military elements collaborated with the robbers and facilitated their job. Without meeting any resistance, the robbers were able to storm into the ammunition warehouse, carry more than 93,000 5.56 mm bullets, transfer them to a truck and leave within minutes.

According to a military official, the robbers were aware of the security routines inside the base and took advantage of a security hole to storm the army’s central ammunition warehouse. However, another official acknowledged that they obtained a help from inside.

The military estimated that more than USD$15,000,000 worth of guns, ammunition and equipment are stolen every year from military bases and camps. Each stolen item is worth from $5,000 to $10,000.

Aviv Kochavi, the Israeli chief of staff, announced an investigation into Tze’elim’s theft, but, as in all similar incidents, no one has been detained.

More than 420,000 unlicensed guns in various Israeli Palestinian towns by the end of January. (Supplied)

 

POLICE END CRIME IN JEWISH AREAS BUT LET IT SPREAD IN PALESTINIAN TOWNS

Prior to Tze’elim’s incident, another theft took place in which the robbers stole a number of M16 rifles which have become a main killing weapons in the Israeli Palestinian communities.

Hegazy’s murder, in late January, stirred widespread protests throughout Arab towns in the country. Protesters accused the police forces of failing to stop the killings within the Palestinian towns. The High Follow-Up Committee of the Arab Citizens of Israel as well as anti-violence associations have grown active in setting up plans to combat this fatal phenomenon. These groups, which have been campaigning to defend their right to keep their lands, have come to strive for another kind of survival – preventing the killing of their youth.

Significantly, during the protests, main roads were closed to paralyze Israeli streets. Police officers were widely deployed and they harshly attacked the Arab protestors, in contrast to their handling with Jewish protesters.

The question is -- why do Israeli security and political agencies keep silent about such phenomena when they should have intervened by seizing the guns, detaining and prosecuting the criminals?

Remarkably, most crimes go unpunished, and the perpetrators are able to move freely so that people fear for the lives of their children if they go outdoors.

On the contrary, in Jewish towns, the government successfully cooperated with security and police forces to uproot crimes some years ago.

Nabila Espanioly, a psychologist and a member of Women Against Weapons, told Majalla, “the approach towards the Arab public is based on negligence and taking advantage of the Palestinian society. There is a systemic policy to worsen the situation and aggravate violence in the Arab towns.”

As for addressing the problem in both Arab and Jewish communities, Espanioly said, “Studies show that when Israel decided to cut off weapon sources in Netanya and Lod, it succeeded in contrast to its inaction with regards to the Arab community unless the victim is a Jew. In such case, the police seriously deal with the crime.”

“Therefore, it is required that the police take action. Government policies are also needed to impose gun control, cut off weapon sources, and seriously handle robbery and black market crimes,” she added.

Confronting the current situation, the Arab society should also acknowledge its own responsibility. Espanioly stated, “Our community should be responsible by preventing engagement with organized crime. There are also plenty of other issues that we have to address, for example, black market deals, and other grey list activities such as money laundering and other related transactions.”

Espanioly said that there is clearly a governmental plan to distract the Palestinian community from its major issues and prevent it from political involvement. She explained, “As a minority in Israel, we need all powers to strive for our rights in housing, healthcare, education, and social issues. Whenever we get more active in our strife, the state gets more upset, so if we are distracted by internal issues from opposing the state’s policies, the government will be satisfied.”

“We, as a community, face an identity crisis. The problem of political disintegration is attributed to our existence as an Arab minority in an undemocratic Jewish state. Given such political facts, we need to be more focused on our causes in order to be stronger,” Espanioly added.

96 KILLED IN 2020, 15 KILLED IN THE LAST MONTH

It is reported that 96 Palestinians were killed in 2020, and by the end of last January, 15 others were killed by unlicensed guns. Thus, the Palestinian community in Israel has the highest rates of murder and gun acquisition in the Middle East.

No doubt that dire economic situation of the Palestinian community is behind the high crime rates. Given the spread of Covid-19 and rising unemployment, more young people commit crimes, as some of them get hired to shoot a target assigned by criminals.

According to Central Bureau of Statistics, 30% of 250,000 young Arabs (aging 18-24) are dropouts and are not enrolled in any form of education or training. Two-thirds of them are men. In Jewish community, only 13% of the youth are dropouts, with equal gender proportions.

Espanioly commented, “We have many social problems. Our children live in a totally different world. There is this virtual reality full of both appropriate and inappropriate content. We have authoritarian families which do not treat children well. Schools are not well equipped to develop their life skills and preserve their identity. Thus, young men and women stumble and drop out of schools and become easy prey for criminals.”

She lamented that young people are arrested while the criminals who direct them are left free and are protected despite being known to the authorities.

“We are a persecuted minority in the country, but we still have to assume the responsibility of our young people,” she concluded.