‘A terrible war’: Herzog meets with Arab women who lost loved ones to violent crime

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With murders in the Arab community continuing to soar, President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal met Sunday at their residence with Arab women who have lost loved ones to the scourge of violent crime.

Amina Abu Siyam spoke of her daughter Rabab, a mother of three who she said was murdered by her husband after years of abuse.

“She was a school teacher for nine years. Before finishing principals’ course the problems began to deepen. Her husband didn’t want her to be a principal. He threatened her. She lived with me for a year, under threat of murder,” Abu Siya said.

Eventually “he came into my home and shot her point blank. She was sitting beside me and got six bullets to the head, with her daughter playing on her knees… I saw every bullet going into her head and couldn’t respond.”

Abu Siyam said she herself was now under threat and urged Herzog to press for tougher action against violent men.

“Mr. President, I want to ask you to stop this in any way you can. The law must be changed to offer women under threat more than shelter. ”

Amina Abu Siyam with a photo of her murdered daughter Rabab, during a meeting with President Isaac Herzog at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, June 25, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Kifah Agbariyeh, a resident of Umm al-Fahm, said seven of her relatives had been murdered, “the last less than a month ago.”

“It was one of the known crime organizations in Umm al-Fahm. My family has 28 orphans. If we are in a democratic country am I not a citizen? Is it not my right to be safe? I’m unprotected Mr. President,” Agbariyeh said.

Michael Herzog said she did “not have the words” to describe her feelings at hearing the women’s tales. “You are from the Arab community, but this is about us all, it’s all of our society and we all live in the same place.” She thanked the women and said, “I, too, feel this great frustration with you.”

Herzog himself said he was treating the matter “as though our own family has been harmed and killed.”

President Isaac Herzog meets with Arab women who have lost loved ones to violent crime, the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, June 25, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO)

“I don’t think of this as Jews and Arabs. This is an Israeli national issue on a huge scale… It is enough to hear you in order to understand how terrible it is. We need any man who even entertains the idea of taking up a gun to think twice, to say nothing of what must be done in education, employment and welfare.

“This phenomenon must be uprooted. It is dangerous and terrible. It is against every human right to live in peace. We are here for you. We have been dealing with this war from the moment we came into [the President’s Residence], and this is truly a huge challenge for Israel,” Herzog said, adding that the women who had come to speak up “are true heroes, leading a brave and just fight.”

Just on Sunday, two men were shot dead in the northern Arab town of Nahf amid a feud between criminal elements, police said. The men were aged 71 and 61, according to Hebrew media reports. They were shot while sitting in a car.

President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal meet with Arab women who have lost loved ones to violent crime, the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, June 25, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO)

It was the latest in a wave of lethal crime plaguing the Arab community.

The Abraham Initiatives anti-violence group said in a statement that 106 Arabs have been killed since the beginning of the year in violence and crime-related incidents. Of those, 91 were shot dead. Ninety-nine were Israeli citizens. During the same period last year there were 44 deaths, the group said.

Police, politicians and community leaders have struggled over the past several years to rein in criminal activity driving the spiking violence, which has appeared to ramp up in recent months.

Many community leaders blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars, and violence against women. The communities have also suffered from years of neglect by state authorities.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right lawmaker who campaigned on promises to beef up public safety, has largely stayed quiet on the soaring crimewave.

Critics say that in fact he is making policy decisions that actively endanger lives, such as scrapping an anti-crime drive in several Arab towns.

Analysts say the killings have been driven by underworld violence fueled by powerful gangs engaged in extortion, loan sharking, protection rackets and other criminal activities.

On Saturday, hundreds of people, among them Arab members of Knesset, protested against what they called police apathy in dealing with the soaring crime rates.

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