Yardena Schwartz is an award-winning American journalist and Emmy-nominated producer based in Tel Aviv. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, and elsewhere. (September 2019)
The problem of gun violence in Israel’s Arab communities has become a national emergency. Even before the recent general election, a poll conducted among Arab Israelis found that their most important issue, far above every other, was the gun violence plaguing Arab society. “This is our number one emergency issue,” said Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of Arab parties in the Knesset. This murder wave, Arab leaders say, would neither exist nor persist if the victims were Jewish. According to Odeh, in instances of shootings in Arab municipalities, the police opened cases just 5 percent of the time. As a result, Arab citizens have developed such a cynical view of the Israeli authorities that they’ve come to believe the state is perfectly comfortable with the current situation—which another Arab Knesset member has called “a civil war.”
The giant yellow billboard near the Arab town of Nahef in northern Israel declares in Arabic, “This time, we are the decision-makers.” It is a reminder to the nearly 2 million Arab citizens of Israel that in this election, which will be held on September 17, they could decide Israel’s future as a democratic state. Their votes, should they choose to wield them, have the power to end the reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, now Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.