Arab Israelis strike to press police to act against violence

Majd al-Krum (Israel) (AFP) –


Arab Israelis protested and held a general strike Thursday to call on police to stop a wave of violence in their communities, a situation the country's president labelled a "national emergency".

Arab Israeli lawmakers boycotted the swearing in of the new parliament in solidarity with the strike and protesters, who accuse police of neglecting their communities and allowing crime and violence to flourish there.

"Since the beginning of September, 14 Arabs have been killed, leaving 31 orphans behind," said Ayman Odeh, head of the mainly Arab Joint List alliance in parliament. "Since 2000, 1,385 Arabs have been killed."

The strike and protests were called after two people were killed and a third seriously wounded on Tuesday in Majd al-Krum, an Arab town in northern Israel.

Protesters chanted "the blood of our youth must not be spilled!".

"We want to pressure the government so that they confiscate illegal guns so that the murders decrease," said Samiha Shaban, a 72-year-old resident of Majd al-Krum participating in a protest there with thousands of others.

In his speech to parliament on Thursday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke of "tackling crime and violence that are overtaking Arab society and have become a national emergency".

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called it an "emergency situation" and said he had "instructed the police to fight violence in the Arab sector just as it combats terrorism and by using all the means possible".

He called on Arab leaders to work with the police.

Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948.

They make up some 20 percent of the country's population and say they are blatantly discriminated against and neglected by the authorities.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Leon Hirsch told Israeli radio that authorities had confiscated more than 3,660 weapons between January and August, with 80 percent in Arab communities.

Police have also announced hundreds of reinforcements in certain areas.

Former Arab lawmaker Mohammed Baraka said police have to act to discourage violence.

He alleged that Arab Israeli communities saw crime rates three times higher than in the occupied West Bank even though "it's the same society, with the same traditions".