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Bereaved Women March against Violence in Israel’s Arab Communities
Left to right: Watfa Jabali, Muna Khalil and Muna’s grandson Mohammad are shown on Thursday in Tira. (Mohammad Al-Kassim)

Bereaved Women March against Violence in Israel’s Arab Communities

People are ‘killed for the slightest reason,’ says Watfa Jabali, whose son was slain before his baby daughter was old enough to speak

Arab-Israeli women whose family members have been killed in an epidemic of violence are walking 200 kilometers, about 125 miles, to Jerusalem in a bid to attract attention to their communities’ plight.

Muna Khalil, from Haifa’s Halisa neighborhood, came up with the idea for the “Mothers for Life” march. One of the women joining her is Watfa Jabali of Taibeh.

So far this year, 56 Arab citizens of Israel have been slain, with 1,400 deaths in the past two decades, according to the Abraham Initiatives, a non-profit organization that works on Arab-Jewish coexistence and other issues. Most of the killings have not been solved.

Knesset Member Ayman Odeh, who heads the Joint List coalition of small Arab parties in Israel’s parliament, is accompanying the women on their five-day journey, which began in Haifa and is winding through towns and villages where violence is prevalent.

Khalil’s only son, 28-year-old Khalil, was shot and killed in June. She calls on the police to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“The march is to demand justice for the children of those who were murdered and to demand that the Israeli government fulfill its legal responsibilities to pursue criminals,” she tells The Media Line as she walks with her seven-year-old grandson, Mohammad, Khalil’s nephew.

The government, she adds, must “stop this illegal arms chaos and rampant crime in the Arab communities.”

She complains that the authorities are not doing enough.

“I won’t stay silent. I decided to challenge the status quo and insist that the police find out who killed my son,” she states.

I won’t stay silent. I decided to challenge the status quo and insist that the police find out who killed my son

Mohammad tells The Media Line he was close to his uncle.

“He used to teach me horseback riding. I miss him so much,” he says.

Jabali lost her son Saad in November 2018. She tells The Media Line she is taking part in the march so other mothers will not have to suffer.

“No mother should have to experience what I went through,” she says. “We demand that the police take responsibility and get the guns off the streets in order to prevent another round of victims.”

No mother should have to experience what I went through

She fights back tears remembering her son and thinking about his three-month-old daughter Sara.

“He never got to hear his daughter call him daddy. He went too soon,” she laments.

“Illegal guns are very easy to obtain in our society for both the young and the old, [and people] are killed for the slightest reason,” she notes.

Diana Qassem Nassar, a pharmacist and owner of the Zahr Al-Lawz children’s restaurant in the town of Tira, hosts the marchers for lunch at her eatery.

“​​Mothers going out… in this heat to deliver their message is a heroic act,” she says.

Mothers going out… in this heat to deliver their message is a heroic act

Nassar adds that her two daughters frequently wake up to the sounds of gunfire.

“They wake up terrified,” she says. “They wonder what’s happening. Instead of our children falling asleep to a lullaby, they go to sleep to the sound of bullets.”

Nassar says she wants “a better and more generous future, society and life” for her children.

“We all have a stake in this,” she says.

“Violence is increasing and there are no serious steps to stop it. That’s why we must unite and support these mothers in their endeavor,” she says. “This is terrorism.”

Odeh, the parliamentarian, tells The Media Line that the violence is a serious problem for Israel’s Arab citizens.

“These women represent thousands of cases in Arab communities,” he states.

“There are tens of thousands of unlicensed weapons in our villages, towns and cities. This is organized crime,” he says, adding that the police need to do their job.

“If they want to,” he says, “they can.”

MK Ayman Odeh (foreground, left) is shown marching in Tira. (Mohammad Al-Kassim)

The Israel Police said in a recent statement that it is using all its resources to solve these crimes, adding that members of the force do not differentiate between violence in Arab and Jewish communities.

Odeh acknowledges that police are not solely to blame.

“A culture of violence is rampant in our [Arab] society, which suffers from marginalization and is mired in poverty and high unemployment,” he says.

The marchers will arrive in Jerusalem on Sunday to meet with President Reuven Rivlin at his residence.

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