image sourceQuique Kierszenbaumimage captionOnly a minority of killings among Israeli Arabs have been solved

Israel's Arab minority accounts for about one-fifth of the population, but in recent years it has experienced the vast majority of the country's murders.

In 2020, 97 Arab citizens were killed, compared to less than half of that in the Jewish community, according to a tally by the Abraham Initiatives group, a Jewish-Arab organisation which promotes positive ties between the two communities. So far this year, about 60 have been killed.

Most victims are young men but increasingly others are caught up in a violent crime wave linked to illegal guns, family feuds and organised gangs.

"It's shocking… we used to think that for these criminals, women and children are the red line," says activist Maisam Jaljuli from the organisation Mothers for Life. "It's not the way anymore."

There is a large padlock on the door of a beauty salon in Maisam's hometown of Tira. It was run by her friend, 38-year-old Suha Mansour.

image sourceMansour familyimage captionNo-one has been arrested over the murder of Suha Mansour

In April Suha, a mother-of-three, had two clients inside when she was shot five times at point-blank range by a hooded attacker. No arrests have yet been made.

"The police took the films of the security camera, but the police don't know who did that until now, or they claim they don't know," Maisam tells me.

"I wonder if it's a case of: 'Who cares? They are Arabs, so let them kill themselves.'"

Breaking a stigma

As shocking as it sounds, Maisam's attitude is far from unusual.

In theory, Israeli Arabs – or Palestinian citizens of Israel, as many prefer to be called – have equal rights with Jewish citizens, but they routinely complain of state discrimination.

image sourceGetty Imagesimage captionMany Israeli Arabs claim they are marginalised, despite equality under the law

Bereaved families and Arab officials claim that police inaction is one of the main reasons for the endemic violence plaguing their neighbourhoods.

"I went mad, it was like I had lost my own life, or lost my eyes. They killed my son, the only boy I had," says an Arab mother in a northern Israeli town.

She is convinced that members of her in-laws' family carried out the shooting, but police say there is no evidence to charge those she suspects.

"The police do nothing at all. They don't care about this stuff happening in Arab communities," she says, weeping.

According to a recent report by the Haaretz newspaper, Israeli police have only solved 23% of Arab murders this year, compared with 71% for the Jewish population.

The police will not confirm those figures, but insist they have nothing to apologise for.

"I'd like to break a stigma," says Cdr Ygal Ezra, who heads a new Crime Prevention Department for Arab areas. "The police invest a lot in the Arab community."

He says that in recent years, nearly 700 Muslim police officers have been recruited and more police stations have been built in Arab towns.

When I press him on the disparity in prosecutions between murderers of Arabs and Jews, he says that he and his colleagues are often up against distrust and a lack of co-operation.

"In a murder in an Arab community, you arrive at the scene and people might have washed the blood away or made the bullets disappear or hidden the killer," Cdr Ezra says.

"Someone might take video evidence and hide it because he doesn't want to get involved in that experience."

Demand for action

The past year has seen a series of mass protests by Arab communities. The Mothers for Life group staged a six-day march from Haifa to Jerusalem. However, the misery has continued.

In Jaljulia, the living room of Siham Ades looks like a shrine to her 14-year-old son, Muhammad, an A-grade student who was shot dead in March. It happened while Muhammad was eating pizza outside his home with a friend, who was seriously hurt.

"Fifteen minutes after they left [the house], we heard shooting. We went out to check what was happening only to find Mustafa lying bloody on the ground. Then we couldn't find Muhammad and I started screaming," she recalls.

image sourceGetty Imagesimage captionThere was unprecedented inter-communal violence in the mixed city of Haifa in May

In Umm al-Fahm, I hear how an Arab doctor was shot dead driving his wife and newborn baby home from hospital. In the Galilee, a man and woman were killed along with their teenage daughter in a drive-by shooting. Their nine-year-old daughter was wounded.

Experts say that as police have cracked down on big Jewish Israeli mobsters in the past decade or so, organised crime has increasingly moved into Arab areas. Heavily-armed gangs run protection rackets and act as loan sharks, threatening and blackmailing people.

The current Israeli coalition government – which includes for the first time, an Islamist Arab party – has promised to act.

It has budgeted over a billion shekels ($310m; £225m) for a new plan to fight crime in the Arab community. Many say that must include tackling Israeli Arabs' relative poverty.

"We want the Israeli government and responsible people to fight economically those organised groups, because if they do not destroy the economic infrastructure that they are building themselves on, nothing will change," says Aida Touma Suleiman, an Israeli Arab member of parliament who sits in opposition.

While politicians plan reforms, activists demand action, and police plead for co-operation. Meanwhile, the stakes surrounding Israel's Arab crime wave are getting higher.

In May, feelings of discrimination melded with a new round of conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, to erupt in violent inter-communal clashes. Mobs of Arab and Jewish extremists went on the rampage in Israel's mixed cities.

There were lynchings, properties were vandalised and religious sites desecrated. Some even warned of impending civil war.

With a sense that Israel's inter-communal bonds are under threat, Maisam Jaljuli – the activist and friend of the late Suha Mansour – is calling on Jews and Arab citizens to unite to deal with the crime and killings.

"It's very important for us, because we don't think that this is an 'Arab society or a Palestinian society inside Israel' problem. It's the whole Israeli problem," she says.

"The whole Israeli society must be engaged. We all the time said that if you think that the violence and the murders will be only inside the Arab society, you are wrong: It soon will be also in the Jewish society."

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