The plague of gun violence among Israel’s Palestinian citizens has returned to the spotlight in recent weeks, after a spree of shocking murders in several towns pushed this year’s death toll to over 100 people. Unfortunately, the debate over what to do about it appears to be stuck on replay. Photos of the deceased spread on social media in what has now become a weekly trend. Arab politicians staged a feckless protest outside the Prime Minister’s Office. Government officials made their usual calls to recruit the Shin Bet in the fight against local gangs. It is a dance we have watched for years, all while the guns keep spreading and the bodies keep piling.
For two decades, organized crime has created a shadow world in Arab localities across Israel, fueling a lucrative black market, pervasive presence of firearms, and a chauvinistic ethos of “might is right.” Feuds between Arab gang members — or indeed, any civilian owning a pistol — have turned into murderous free-for-alls, such that anyone from a spouse to a distant relative can become a target. More than any other issue, personal safety is now the number one concern of Palestinian citizens, with some feeling they can hardly walk down the street, visit family members, or send kids to school without worrying if they will make it back home unharmed.
Yet there is something deeply troubling about the way solutions to the violence are being deliberated, even among Palestinian citizens. The dominant thinking — echoed from Knesset halls to living rooms — is that what is needed to combat the problem is the intervention of the Israeli police and security agencies. Pointing to previous operations against Jewish crime syndicates, as well as the state’s massive capacity in dealing with “terrorism,” many insist that law enforcement authorities are merely absent from the Arab sector, and should therefore step in to bring order.
These security forces, however, already have a constant presence in Arab communities; they’re just not there to serve Arabs. Among other roles, the national police are essentially tasked with preventing Palestinian citizens from disrupting the Jewish public sphere; the Border Police are focused on chasing down Palestinians from the occupied territories without permits; and the Shin Bet is charged with undercutting any form of Palestinian political activity, whether it is a militant cell or a protest in a school. Despite claims by officials last week, Israeli authorities have more than enough resources to tackle crime and violence in Palestinian society — they simply don’t want to.