Israeli-Arabs create new app to combat high murder rate

The new service would allow witnesses to report crimes anonymously

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As unsolved murders mount in Israel’s Arab areas, a team in the city of Nazareth has developed an app it says can combat violent crime.

One person has been killed on average every three days this year within the Arab-Israeli community or among Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.

In one of the latest outbursts of violence, on Monday one person was shot dead and several others wounded at a wedding in the central city of Tayibe.

Waging a war against organised crime is a must, but it is not enough
Ofer Cassif, legislator

“It’s traumatic,” said Khalil Jaraisy, a civil engineering student from Nazareth. He was walking to his local bakery recently when he heard gunshots.

“I directly turned around and went home,” he said. “I started to think, let’s find a solution. A post on Facebook or Instagram is not enough.”

Mr Jaraisy instead joined friends this month at a hackathon at which they developed an app to track the killings.

The Crime Around app is designed to enable witnesses to anonymously log violence, which is marked on a map while a notification is sent to people nearby. The team aims to link the app to the emergency services, with the intention of improving the response time and conviction rate.

About a fifth of murder cases in the Arab community last year have been solved, according to the Abraham Initiatives.

Thabet Abu Rass, co-director of the organisation, which promotes coexistence, pointed to a severe lack of trust among residents.

“The major reason is that the police are doing almost nothing in terms of combating crime and violence,” he said.

“We are looking for police to serve the people as a civil service, just like doctors or social workers.”

The Abraham Initiatives has recorded 93 murders of Arabs this year, a pace set to surpass the 97 murders last year and the 89 reported in 2019.

A police representative was not available to comment on the violence when contacted by The National.

The app creators believe that by providing an anonymous service, witnesses who are usually wary of going to the authorities will come forward.

While evidence provided through the app may not stand up in court, Mr Jaraisy said it could support investigators and inform police of where and when more patrols are needed.

Revital Duek, co-chief executive of tech company Tsofen, which hosted the hackathon, said the app could prove useful for local authorities.

“It looked great, they thought of all the components,” said Ms Duek, whose non-profit organisation focuses on developing technology among in Israel’s Arab community.

The designers will need to raise money, both to develop the app and for advertising to ensure widespread usage.

More investment in the tech industry could bring employment to Arab areas, where the jobless rate is higher than in Jewish-majority areas, Ms Duek said.

“We believe this is one of the tools or the channels to improve the Arab municipalities’ situation,” she said.

Bennett’s pledge on crime

Israel’s ruling coalition, which for the first time includes an Arab party, has vowed to crack down on the killers.

“My government is determined to take action and wage an unceasing, constant and persistent fight, with full force, against crime and violence in the Arab sector,” prime minister Naftali Bennett said last month.

He said 60 per cent of crimes nationwide take place within the Arab community, which makes up 20 per cent of the population.

Mr Bennett has blamed “years of neglect” for the current crisis, although his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly made similar promises to bring the crime rate down.

Funding to combat violence has been earmarked in the national budget, which is due for approval in November.

Call for broader support

Ofer Cassif, a legislator with the Arab-led Joint List, said the root causes of crime must also be addressed.

“Collecting the arms and waging a war against organised crime is a must, but it is not enough,” he said.

Access to housing, green spaces, education and jobs are some of the areas he believes must be improved.

Aware of the plans to launch an app, Mr Cassif lamented residents having to step in and do the authorities’ work.

“In no democratic state or normal state the police ask the citizens to be the ones who act against … the criminals,” he said. “This is the state’s obligation towards their citizens.”

But with no end to the spate of killings, the Nazareth team believes it can help reduce the fear afflicting their community.

“It’s the ultimate goal to reduce the murders,” said Mr Jaraisy. “To feel safer, because it’s our right.”

Updated: September 26, 2021, 8:07 AM