Israel unveils plan to stem Arab community murders

Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel's government on Wednesday ordered police reinforcements Ysent to Arab communities suffering an unprecedented spate of murders that a critic feared could lead to "racial profiling."

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So far this year, 102 people have been murdered in Arab communities, prompting growing concern about spiralling violence among a minority group that has long complained of systemic discrimination.

The latest victim was a 26-year-old man from the northern town of Umm al-Fahm who died on Wednesday after the car he rode in came under fire, police said.

Hours later, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he ordered two Border Police companies moved into southern Israel "in order to shift experienced forces to aid in the fight against crime among Arab communities."

Presenting a six-month interim plan to parliament, deputy public security minister Yoav Segalovitz said Israel was in "an emergency situation and that is why we are using emergency measures."

The plan, endorsed by Bennett, has already gone into effect, Segalovitz said.

It will see the army tighten security to prevent weapons being smuggled off bases or across borders. The powerful Shin Bet internal security agency will support the effort.

Segalovitz said the government intended to invest in crime prevention, welfare, infrastructure, education and construction in Arab communities, although lawmakers must approve the spending.

Other bills advancing through parliament would apply minimum sentences for illegal weapons possession and expand police authority to perform searches without warrants.

'House on fire'

Arab lawmakers are split over how to address the violence.

Opposition lawmaker Sami Abou Shahadeh from the Joint List alliance of parties said more police transparency was needed after years of failing to head off murders.

But Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Freij of the left-wing Meretz party said he intended to support the government programme.

"My house is on fire. I cannot think of the luxury of human rights," he said.

Arab citizens of Israel comprise about a fifth of the population, the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their lands during the 1948 war for Israel's independence.

They hold Israeli passports and have the right to vote, but they point to discrimination in housing, budgets and police enforcement.

Hassan Jabareen, an attorney and director of the Adalah organisation that advocates for Palestinians' rights in Israel, said his group would mount legal challenges to elements of the crackdown, including warrantless searches.

"They are going from extreme under-policing to extreme overpolicing," he told AFP.

He said some of the proposed methods reminded him of Israel's first two decades, when Arab citizens were placed under military rule until 1966.

"The language of the law is neutral but the enforcement won't be neutral. It will be racial profiling," Jabareen said.

In August, police announced a new undercover unit of "mista'arvim" -- Israeli Jews disguised as Arabs -- to cut down on crime, "riots and terror."