Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has vowed to act to stem the wave of violence that has claimed the lives of almost 200 Israeli Arabs in the last 10 months.
“Immediately upon the Knesset’s convening we will introduce a series of laws that will provide law enforcement authorities with significant and innovative tools to combat criminal organisations and other violent factors,” Mr Netanyahu said.
His comments followed the most shocking incident to date when on Wednesday gunmen entered a home in the Bedouin town of Basmat Tabun in northern Israel and shot dead five family members – four men and a woman. Police believe the killing was a revenge attack after another Arab citizen was shot dead while driving his car in daylight in the centre of the northern city of Haifa.
Mr Netanyahu called the killings “shocking and heart-wrenching.” Police chief Kobi Shabtai described the mass shooting as one of the “most abhorrent events we have ever encountered – a targeted elimination of an entire family” and vowed that “all the resources of the Israel police are allocated to this incident in order to find and bring to justice the murderers”.
In a rare move Israel’s attorney general gave permission for the police to use the controversial NSO Pegasus spyware in the investigation into the murders in Basmat Tabun. The police were permitted to use the spyware for wiretapping in the investigation, but prohibited from extracting data from mobile devices. Police said using the spyware could save lives as there was a real danger of a wave of tit-for-tat killings.
Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, which contains no Arab parties, promised to restore governance and law and order when it assumed power at the beginning of the year, but many Arab citizens, who make up about one fifth of Israel’s population, are now afraid to venture onto the streets.
Some 192 Israeli Arabs have been killed since the Netanyahu government assumed office 10 months ago – a murder rate 2½ times higher than 2022 when the previous government headed by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid prioritised tackling crime in the Arab sector and managed to bring about a small decrease in the number of killings.
Far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has made a number of blatant anti-Arab racist comments in the past, holds ministerial responsibility for the police. He described the crime wave as a security threat on a national scale and wants to increase surveillance of suspects and utilise the Shin Bet domestic security agency, which is responsible for combating militant Palestinian groups in the West Bank – a move opposed by many Arab community leaders and human rights groups.