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A banner above the doorway shows a wedding invitation with a photo of the groom, Amir Barabra who was killed, in Taibeh, an Arab town in central Israel on September 23, 2021. Image Credit: NYT

Taibeh, Israel: After a day of work in construction, Alaa Sarsour, 25, walked the short distance to his friend’s pre-wedding henna party in the old heart of Taibeh, an Arab town in central Israel.

Suddenly, midcelebration, a burst of bullets split the night air, hitting Sarsour and five other guests. Sarsour died in his brother’s lap, relatives said, apparently the victim of a simmering feud between the gunman - a friend of the groom who had been at the party moments earlier - and a member of Sarsour’s family.

The shooting in September was just one of at least 16 homicides in Israel’s Arab communities last month and one of nearly 100 so far this year.

The killings - not by Israeli soldiers but by Arab criminals - account for about 70 per cent of all Israeli homicides, though Arabs represent just over 20 per cent of the population. The surging violence has shocked the country and put a spotlight on what the government acknowledges to have been decades of neglect of crime in Arab communities.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has described the violence as a “national blight” and will head a new ministerial task force to combat the problem that is set to meet Sunday.

The number of homicides within the Arab community has spiralled in recent years, from 58 in 2013, according to the police, to about 97 in 2020 and at least 98 so far this year. An Arab citizen of Israel is far more likely to get killed by a fellow Arab than by Israeli police, and more Arabs have been killed by Arabs in Israel so far this year than have been killed by Israeli security forces in confrontations in the occupied West Bank, which receive much greater attention.

Fewer than one-quarter of the cases have been solved - a symptom, critics say, of both police indifference and Arab distrust of the police.

Out of more than 3,300 shootings in Arab communities in 2019, only 5 per cent resulted in indictments, which police say is a result of difficulty in gathering evidence and locating suspects and witnesses.

Some, though, are sceptical of authorities’ intentions, believing that they have deliberately let violence run amok in order to weaken the Arab minority in Israel, which largely identifies as Palestinian.