newsIsrael at War

Police chief lauds Arab Israelis, though disturbing incidents abound

As Israel prosecutes its war, Israeli Arabs have so far refrained from rioting, though there has been a sharp rise in pro-Hamas incitement.

Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai speaks during a State Control Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 6, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai speaks during a State Control Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 6, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai on Sunday praised Arab Israelis’ “exemplary behavior” amid Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking during a National Security Committee meeting at the Knesset, Shabtai said, “A good word should be said for exemplary behavior and zero incidents.”

The committee meeting, titled “Preparation for a ‘Guardian of the Walls’ scenario,” took place at the request of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has instructed Shabtai to prepare for a possible “Guardian of the Walls 2,” referring to a repeat of the Arab riots that rocked Israel in May 2021.

As Israel prosecutes its war with the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip, Israeli Arabs have so far refrained from rioting, in part due to the stronger hand shown by police.

Police broke up pro-Gaza rallies in Haifa, Tayibe and Umm al-Fahm, and Shabtai threatened on May 18 to deport Arab Israeli Hamas supporters to Gaza. His statements were posted to the police’s Arabic TikTok and X channels.

However, a continuous stream of reports about Israeli Arabs expressing support for Hamas and the Oct. 7 massacre of Jews continues to pour in, with Israeli police arresting dozens of suspects on charges of incitement and support for terrorism.

Israeli news site Hakol Hayehudi, which has been cataloging these incidents, reported on Monday that it has been “flooded” with reports of Israeli Arab support for terrorists on social networks. It has reached the point where the paper said on Monday that it was “unable to cope with the increasing flow of information.”

A new website and task force has been set up by Likud Knesset members Amit Halevi and Moshe Passal to fight Israeli Arab support for Hamas on social media. “We pledge to immediately hand over to the law enforcement authorities and follow up until these criminals are behind bars,” they said.

Such incidents abound. Israeli police on Tuesday arrested Israeli Arab actress Maisa Abd Elhadi for incitement and praise of terrorism. Abd Elhadi shared images of an elderly woman as she was taken hostage by Hamas, with laughing emojis. She captioned another picture of Hamas terrorists breaking through Israel’s Gaza fence: “Let’s go, Berlin style.”

A 20-year-old Arab woman from the neighborhood of Sur Baher in eastern Jerusalem, who worked as a nurse at a Jewish day school, was arrested after posting support for Hamas’s massacre on her Facebook page.

“Almighty avenger, take revenge for our people in Gaza. … Victory is near. Conquest is near. Liberation is near,” she wrote.

Similarly, an Arab woman from Tayibe who teaches kindergarten in Hod Hasharon was arrested for online incitement.

A young man from Fureidis, an Arab town in the Haifa District, was arrested for incitement and support for Hamas. He worked as a private security guard protecting large events at a major complex near Zichron Ya’akov.

An X-ray technician at a hospital in Judea and Samaria called on Arabs to join in Hamas’s war against Israel. His co-workers expressed shock. Some refused to come to work until he was suspended.

Last week, the director general of the Israeli Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, suspended two Arab employees who made racist statements against Jews.

On Oct. 17, police arrested Dalal Abu Amneh, a neuroscience researcher at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa who is also a singer with a million followers online. She had posted, “There is no victor but Allah” together with a PLO flag.

Similarly, 16 Arab Technion students expressed support on social media for Hamas’s massacre.

Some Israeli Arabs have expressed outrage at the reports, treating the exposés themselves as incitement. Moran Tal, a blogger and observer of Arab media, reported that a new Israeli Arab Telegram channel, titled “inciting content against the Arabs,” recently opened to report those exposing Arab incitement against Jews. The goal is to close the accounts of those who reveal Israeli Arab support for terrorism.

Incitement is not reserved to social media. On Saturday night, Israeli police arrested a resident of Jerusalem’s Abu Tor neighborhood suspected of painting swastikas on several Israeli flags.

On Oct. 19, police closed a convenience store in Jerusalem after Arab employees sang a song in praise of the murder by Hamas on Oct. 7 of more than 260 people at a music festival in southern Israel. A judge refused a police request to extend the arrest of the workers, saying it was only a “crime of expression.”

Israeli Arab religious figures also have been caught supporting terrorism. An imam was indicted on Monday for preaching at a mosque in eastern Jerusalem to “fight the holy war” against Israel.

“Fight mercilessly. They fight us and they will die, therefore, Allah will consider this on our part as death for his sanctification. Victory is coming. It is already here,” said the imam.

The police linked the sermon to a violent demonstration that broke out in the Issawiya neighborhood of Jerusalem several hours later.

Police and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), Israel’s internal security service, said that another imam will be indicted on Tuesday.

There also have been reports of Israeli Arabs giving away IDF troop locations. The Israeli group Torat HaLichima reported that soldiers transported to a gathering point near Gaza discovered that their Arab driver had stowed a Hamas flag in the storage compartment above their seats.

Hamas flag found in a storage compartment of an Arab driver transporting IDF soldiers. Courtesy: HaKol HaYehudi.

The Shin Bet interrogated the driver.

There have been repeated warnings about Israeli Arabs driving near the Gaza Strip and photographing IDF bases and assembly areas. Soldiers stopped one and handed him over to the Shin Bet. Police later said that he had indeed taken pictures and sent locations.

Particularly disturbing are reports such as the joint investigation by HaKol Yehudi and Ad Kan, a pro-Israel NGO, revealing that an Israeli Arab soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, a young woman who finished her service in May, had published inflammatory videos in support of Hamas while wearing an IDF uniform.

Despite such incidents, Shabtai told the committee that “we are in a different place” than in May 2021, with better monitoring of social media, better intelligence, strategically located cameras and tight communication with local authorities in cities with large Arab populations such as Lod and Acre.

Israel was taken by surprise last time but today “we respond and know how to analyze trends and prepare for them ahead of time,” said Shabtai.

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