Israel said Wednesday it arrested more than 40 criminal suspects in a wave of police raids across the country marking the launch of a new plan to combat crime in Arab communities.
Israel’s Arab minority has called for improved law enforcement as it has grappled with a wave of violent crime in recent years. Arab activists accuse Israeli authorities of ignoring violence that doesn’t target Jews, while the police blame a lack of cooperation from community leaders.
Some 57 Arab Israelis have been killed in homicides since the beginning of 2021 including six people in the past week. In 2020, 96 Arab Israelis were killed, by far the highest annual toll in recent memory.
Improving law enforcement was a key demand of Ra'am, which became the first Arab party to sit in a ruling coalition when the new government was sworn in in June.
In an operation launched early Wednesday, some 1,000 police raided more than 280 targets across the country, apprehending 41 suspects and seizing hundreds of thousands of dollars related to weapons trafficking, police said.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the raids are part of a new plan to combat crime in Arab communities approved in July, which includes a new branch devoted to the task.
“My government is determined to take action and wage an unceasing, constant and persistent fight, with full force, against crime and violence in the Arab sector,” Bennett said in a statement.
The plan calls for speeding up the prosecution of alleged criminals, breaking up organized crime and improving cooperation with community leaders. The Israeli police will add some 1,100 personnel to its ranks. Two new police stations, one of which will be in the poor Arab fishing town of Jisr al-Zarka in central Israel, will also be established.
According to a draft of the national plan, NIS 2.4 billion will be budgeted over five years.
“In the past decade, previous governments of Israel presented lofty plans more than once, but we have come to act,” said Public Security Minister Omar Barlev.
Israel’s Arab minority makes up around 20% of the population. They have citizenship, including the right to vote, but face widespread discrimination and say their communities have long been neglected by authorities. They have close familial ties to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and largely identify with their cause, leading many Israeli Jews to view Arab citizens with suspicion.
Jewish-Arab tensions boiled over during the Gaza war in May, when many mixed cities saw an eruption of violence in which large groups of Arabs and Jews fought each other in the streets, torched property and assaulted passersby.