The Jerusalem Post

What causes violence, murders among Israeli Arabs, and what can cure it?

 Arab Israelis stage a mock funeral in Tel Aviv on August 6 to demonstrate against what they say is the government’s failure to address soaring levels of organized crime.  (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Arab Israelis stage a mock funeral in Tel Aviv on August 6 to demonstrate against what they say is the government’s failure to address soaring levels of organized crime.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

By September 1, some 165 Israeli Arabs had been murdered since the start of the year. The violence is clearly out of control. But why? And what can and should be done?

Despite my professional training as a number-cruncher, I believe that numbers don’t count most – people do. Yet sometimes, rarely, the numbers are so striking that they tell the story.

Following the murder of Abed al-Rahman Kashu, director-general of the Tira Municipality in central Israel, in a shooting in the city on the evening of August 21, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet that the Shin Bet security agency would be brought in to help the police combat crime in Arab communities. 

The Shin Bet joined a police probe into a quadruple homicide (one of the victims was a mayoral candidate) in the Druze town of Abu Snan on August 22. 

By September 1, some 165 Israeli Arabs had been murdered since the start of the year. That makes an average of two such deaths every three days, and 20% more than the entire number of such killings in all of 2022. 


The violence is clearly out of control. But why? And what can and should be done? I spoke about this with my Neaman Institute colleague Dr. Nohad Ali, a member of Western Galilee College’s Sociology Department. I believe he is Israel’s number one expert on the subject. He has done extensive research on it for years and published numerous articles. 

 Nohad Ali (credit: COURTESY NOHAD ALI)
Nohad Ali (credit: COURTESY NOHAD ALI)

Words matter. What is a respectful and accurate term to address for Israeli Arabs?

‘Israeli Arabs’ is not appropriate for our conversation; it is too sectoral. We should use the term ‘Arab citizens of Israel.’ I am not fond of the term ‘Arab sector’ but rather ‘Arab society.’ 

The statistics on violence among Arab citizens of Israel are awful. Do we know why the violence has spiked this year – especially since November 1, 2022, when elections were last held?

Between the years 1980-2000, about 80 Arabs were murdered in Arab society, probably by Arabs. An average of four murders per year. From the year 2000 until today, nearly 1,897 have been murdered, an average of about 83 murdered per year. From 1948 to 2000, the proportion of Arabs among those murdered in Israel was 4.9%; today, it has climbed to 73%.

The year 2000 was a turning point in crime in Arab society. After the events of October 2000 – the Al-Aqsa Intifada -- the police withdrew from Arab society. Its place was taken by criminal organizations. 

Why the spike in murders this year? There is no law and no justice. All the programs of the previous government have been frozen, and some of the mechanisms for eradicating violence were dismantled. This issue is not on the agenda of the current government.


You are the leading Israeli scholar researching violence in Arab Israeli society. What do our Arab citizens themselves think is the cause? And based on your research, are they right?

The violence and crime in Arab society in Israel can be split into two. First, domestic violence; the result of internal conflicts – disputes between neighbors and clans, land problems, etc. It is the duty of Arab society to resolve these disputes. The second cause is organized crime. It is the role of the state to deal with this, and it has failed. The Arab public cannot deal with the criminal organizations.

The truth is, Arab public opinion in Israel points an accusing finger at the Israeli government and the Israel Police. They are responsible for the security of their citizens. If there were murders like this in Jewish society, the commissioner of police, the minister in charge, and maybe the prime minister would all be fired.”

According to one study, some 75% of murders within Israeli Arab society originate ‘from organized crime.’ But according to an INSS [Institute for National Security Studies] study, when the police do crack down on crime families, ‘splits emerged within them, which in turn led to internal violent rivalries.’ What do you think would be an effective pragmatic anti-violence policy for Arab cities in Israel?

Since fewer than 20% of murders in Arab society are solved, it is difficult for us to know who was murdered by the criminal organizations and who was murdered for other reasons. However, in order to deal with crime in Arab society, the problem must be treated as a problem of Israeli society as a whole and not only of the Arabs.

In order to deal with this phenomenon, a large-scale solution must be proposed that will start with a strong hand to eradicate the illegal weapons in Arab society, which are found in huge quantities, and then move to the social and economic side. 

We must deal with the problem of idle young people. About 42% of Arab young people between the ages of 18-24 neither work nor study and are a reservoir for criminal organizations. We need to improve the economy, infrastructure, unemployment, deal with the housing crisis and, most importantly, the education system.

Kafr Kassem, a city of about 25,000, some 26 kms. [16 miles] from Tel Aviv, has until recently been an island of relative calm. This is despite the sad history of the 1956 massacre there. But this may be changing. Why has Kafr Kassem been relatively calm? Specifically: A local militia, Al Halasa, was organized in Kafr Kassem. Was this effective? Is this a possible solution for other cities? 

No Arab settlement is immune from violence and crime, and no Arab person is immune. Nearly 80% of the Arab public feel afraid of being a victim of violence.

Kafr Kassem was a city with a high rate of violence a few years ago. It was among the leading cities in the rate of violence. The residents initiated action and formed a kind of well-organized youth group that patrols the streets all the time and tries to deal with every case of violence. Their presence day and night has a positive effect on lowering the rate of violence in the city.

Your PhD thesis was on the Islamic movement in Israel. There are northern and southern branches. They have considerable political influence. Have they been involved in efforts to curb violence? 

My doctoral thesis dealt with the Islamic movement, which I compared to Shas as two religious and ethnic political movements with Eastern culture. [The Islamic movement was outlawed.] 

The relevant project was named Al-Salam Al-Ahli – “communal reconciliation.” The southern faction of the Islamic movement, led by Sheikh Zafat Farij and MK Mansour Abbas, tried together through the government to offer solutions. In the meantime, the criminal organizations are stronger than the two factions, stronger than the monitoring committee for the affairs of the Arab population, and stronger than the whole of the Arab Enlightenment. 

Do you think things will get better – or worse?

In October 2023, there will be local government elections in Israel, including Arab local government. As we get closer to that date, the crime rate will rise. The criminal organizations have set themselves the goal of taking over the Arab local government, either directly or indirectly.

Postscript: On Sunday, August 6, thousands of Jews and Arabs marched in Tel Aviv against government inaction on violence in the Arab community. It was a highly creative protest. Demonstrators carried with them dozens of coffins, symbolizing the dozens of Arab homicides since the start of 2023.  ■

The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at