Police at the scene where five people were shot dead in the Arab town of Yafa an-Naseriyye in northern Israel, June 8, 2023. (Fadi Amun/Flash90)

5 dead in gang-related shooting near Nazareth as government aims to stem wave of Arab-Israeli killings

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5 dead in gang-related shooting near Nazareth as government aims to stem wave of Arab-Israeli killings

Police at the scene where five people were shot dead in the Arab town of Yafa an-Naseriyye in northern Israel, June 8, 2023. (Fadi Amun/Flash90)

(JTA) — Five people were killed in a gang-related shooting at a car wash near Nazareth in northern Israel, continuing a rising wave of violent deaths in Arab-Israeli areas and prompting increasingly urgent calls for action to address the bloodshed.

The incident on Thursday was the most fatal criminal attack in Israel since 2009, according to the publication Ynet, and comes amid a string of killings in Arab-Israeli communities. Since the beginning of the year, 97 Arab-Israelis have been killed by violent means, compared to 35 in the same period last year, according to the Times of Israel. In protest of Thursday’s shooting, an umbrella Arab-Israeli leadership organization called a general strike for tomorrow.

The shooting in the town of Yafa an-Naseriyye was reportedly related to a longstanding feud between two Arab crime families, though bystanders may also have been killed. The victims range in age from 15 to 29, according to Haaretz. The previous night, a man was killed in a separate shooting in Nazareth, and there were other shootings on Thursday as well.

For years, Arab-Israelis have lobbied for the Israeli government to take crime in their cities more seriously and to devote more resources to stemming the tide of killings. Those calls have grown louder this year as the death toll has skyrocketed.

Arab-Israelis have also prompted debate this week over who will oversee the effort to reduce violence in Arab-Israeli municipalities. The politician in charge of the police response to the crime wave is Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right national security minister, who said Monday that he would select a point person to focus on the issue. He has also pushed for the creation of a 2000-member national guard under his authority, a proposal Israel’s government advanced earlier this year.

On Thursday, Ben Gvir visited the site of the car wash shooting and, Ynet reported, said there had been “decades of abandonment and a lack of governance that have blown up in our faces.” He additionally called Arab-Israeli society the “Wild West.” Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai also came to the scene, where he was greeted with protesters calling him a “murderer.”

Ben-Gvir demanded that the Shin Bet intelligence agency get involved in the response to the killings. The Shin Bet is known for its operations against and interrogations of Palestinian terror suspects, and involving the agency in combating the crime wave has been a controversial prospect among Arab Israelis.

Arab-Israeli politicians have said they mistrust Ben-Gvir’s politics and intentions, and they have instead appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take charge of the issue. In a meeting with Arab-Israeli lawmakers who are usually among his most outspoken opponents, Netanyahu promised to appoint a steering committee, which he would chair, to address the crime wave.

“In order to defeat criminal organization, trust is needed, and we have no trust in Ben Gvir, the racist,” read a statement earlier this week from the Arab-Israeli Hadash-Taal Party, according to the Times of Israel. “A proper government would have fired him a long time ago.”

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