An imam, or Muslim prayer leader, was shot dead outside his mosque in Umm el-Fahm shortly after dawn in the most brazen of a spate of murders that is shaking the Arab sector.
The victim of Tuesday’s attack was identified as Muhammad Saadeh, 45, the imam of the Tawhid Mosque. Paramedics from Magen David Adom pronounced him dead at the scene.
Umm el-Fahm Deputy Mayor Bilal Daher Mahajane said, “We still don’t have a direction” in knowing where to look for the murderer. He criticized the police for not doing enough to stop violent crime. “They need to collect all the weapons. Every night there is shooting.” He noted that a local resident was seriously wounded in a shooting just two weeks ago.
Mahajane said the police have reinforced their presence in Umm el-Fahm, but added, “This isn’t enough.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld could not be reached for comment, but he has in the past defended the police posture toward Arab areas, saying they have been active in thwarting crime and recently opened new stations in Arab areas.
But Jafar Farah, head of the Haifa-based Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center For Arab Citizens In Israel, offers a different view. “If the imam would be any Jewish citizen shot in Umm el-Fahm, immediately the police and secret service would intervene. They would arrest the people and find the sources of legal and illegal weapons.”
Saadeh was the 10th Arab citizen to be murdered this year.
Critics of the police say they rarely find the culprits in murders of Arabs. In 2017, 71 Arabs in Israel were killed, accounting for 60% of killings in the country, according to Thabet Abu Rass, co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives. No more than 20% of the cases were solved, he said.
“The biggest problem in combating crime is the responsibility of the police,” Abu Rass said. “Criminal families are killing each other and the police should put more efforts in and come up with better results.
That will build trust.”
“The police can do a lot more,” he said. “They are not allocating enough resources.”
At the same time, Abu Rass faulted factors within the Arab community. “There is a debate in the Arab community about relations with the police. Some call to boycott. That is a bad strategy. This is our only police and we are citizens. We have to work with the police and change the police, demanding that police service be improved.”
“Arabs have to take sides against the criminals, helping the police and should inform the police and not be scared to involve the police,” he said Abu Rass also stressed the importance of education. “The community should play a stronger role in educating kids against violence and for values of tolerance and accepting the other.”
Sheikh Safwat Farig, deputy head of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement, was distraught over the murder.
“When we speak of murder in holy places, regardless of whether it’s a mosque, church or synagogue, it constitutes the crossing of a redline and it should worry all of us.”
“The State of Israel has to put an end to this wildness, to this despicable murder or it will cost all of us dearly,” he said, adding that he fears the next escalation will be the murder of a politician.
“We are at the point of despair with the police. It isn’t doing its job at all. Those in positions of responsibility have got to take responsibility,” Farig said.
“The police are so serious when they want to be. They investigate the prime minister and have put a president in jail.
If they take a decision, there will be results. If not, there will be more victims.”