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Le Monde
Le Monde
2 Sep 2023

A portrait of Ammar Hujairat at his parents' home in Bir al-Maksur on August 12, 2023.

The scourge of organized crime among Israel's Palestinians

By  (Umm al-Fahm (Israel), special correspondent)
Published today at 12:00 pm (Paris)

Time to 5 min. Lire en français

Ammar and Omar, two young brothers, woke up early one Thursday in January 2022 and jumped on the bed of their father, Mohammed Hujairat, to wake him up. He couldn’t tell off his two beloved children, especially Ammar, his first son after 17 years of marriage to his wife Aisha, who had previously given him four daughters. The huge house was calm, and the large village, Bir al-Maksur, had the tranquility of winter mornings. Here live the descendants of those who escaped the Nakba, the forced exodus of 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 – half the population of historic Palestine. Today, 2 million Palestinians live within Israel's internationally recognized borders.

Father and son finally got up. Hujairat, a construction worker, had to leave for work. Ammar was disappointed. "I'm upset with you," he said. "Those were the last words he said to me," said Hujairat. He left. The child's aunt took him and his cousins to a park. Ammar cheered up. In a video sent to his father, he said: "Daddy, I love you." Ten seconds later, he was killed by a stray bullet. A gunman had machine-gunned a dump truck on the construction site above, during a dispute between contractors over stolen materials.

Aisha Hujairat and her second son Omar at home in Bir al-Maksur on August 12, 2023.
Mohammed Hujairat prays in the living room of his home in Bir al-Maksur on August 12, 2023.

In Israel's Palestinian communities, increasingly deadly violence accompanies the development of rising aggressive criminality, with family disputes, quarrels between landlords, unpaid loans, arms and drug trafficking and extortion. One hundred and fifty-seven Israeli Arabs have been killed in such settlements since the beginning of the year, compared with 116 in the 12 months to 2022, according to Abraham Initiatives, an NGO that campaigns for equality between Jewish and Arab citizens. According to a Knesset report, 70% of those killed in Israel between 2018 and 2022 were Palestinians, even though this community makes up only 20% of the country's population.

On a street in Umm al-Fahm, Israel, on August 15, 2023. The murals are the work of Kifah Ghbarieh, an artist who lost seven members of her family during violence in the city's Arab-Israeli community.

While the numbers have soared since 2018, the causes of this issue go back a long way. Palestinian communities have historically been neglected by Israel. The number of police stations serving the country's 80 or so Arab towns and cities – villages and hamlets are not included in this category – stands at 16, according to a count by Adalah, an organization that defends the rights of Israel's Arab minority. "State institutions have never really been present in these areas. This has allowed small criminal organizations to flourish," explained Moran Maimoni, co-director of public affairs at Abraham Initiatives.

'As long as they are killing each other, that’s their problem'

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