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Protesters Want Action On Organized Crime In Palestinian-Majority Parts Of Israel


To Israel now, where Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, also called Israeli Arabs, have been protesting for weeks. They want the police to pay more attention to their communities. They say police are neglecting violent crime, from domestic violence to gang activity, in Arab majority areas. Naomi Zeveloff reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

NAOMI ZEVELOFF, BYLINE: Outside of a police station in Nazareth in northern Israel, protesters are carrying black flags to symbolize mourning. They chant, the smell of blood is all over. On the street, there's a row of fake coffins, one with a sign that reads, who is next? The issue isn't what we sometimes hear about from here - Israeli forces killing Palestinians. This is about violent crimes among people in Palestinian majority areas, things like domestic violence, gang activity and revenge killing between families.

AIDA TOUMA-SLIMAN: We are demanding that the police, they act and act in a very tough way against the organized criminal groups.

ZEVELOFF: Aida Touma-Sliman is a member of Parliament. She says that police neglect has created a vacuum where crime occurs. Palestinian citizens of Israel - not to be confused with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank or Gaza - make up 20% of the Israeli population. But police figures for 2017 and '18 show they accounted for more than half of the violent crime deaths nationwide. And this year, at least 77 Palestinian citizens of Israel have been killed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has created a committee to look at the issue, and police say they want to solve it.

MICKY ROSENFELD: Our main aim today is to be at the right place at the right time.

ZEVELOFF: That's Micky Rosenfeld, Israeli police spokesman. He says police are concentrating on reducing the number of illegal weapons, having confiscated at least 3,800 this year. They're adding police stations, and they are also asking for help.

ROSENFELD: We are increasing our open connection with the leaders of the communities.

ZEVELOFF: But a recent survey found that only about a quarter of Palestinians trust the police. Many feel targeted by them as Palestinians, rather than treated as citizens, says Thabet Abu Rass, co-director of Abraham Initiatives, the group that published the survey.

THABET ABU RASS: There is a real problem here. We are Israeli citizens, yet we are part of the Palestinian people. And there is a conflict between my people, the Palestinians, and my country, Israel.

ZEVELOFF: For now, many are left mourning. In Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel, Leila Mahameed remembers her 24-year-old son Ibrahim as the generous family breadwinner.

LEILA MAHAMEED: (Through interpreter) Ibrahim is a big loss, not only to me but also to the household.

ZEVELOFF: Mahameed says Ibrahim was shot in September at a kiosk next to his work, when he went to buy a Coke. She says the family was trying to settle a score with the owner of the kiosk.

MAHAMEED: (Through interpreter) I asked the police to empty the town from all arms, from all weapons, which are disturbing the peace of this town. I ask the people to bring up their sons to respect peace and safety of others.

ZEVELOFF: Mahameed says she is still grieving, but when she feels ready, she'll join the protests.

For NPR News, I'm Naomi Zeveloff in northern Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAKAISU'S "SETTLING IN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.