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Israel's Arabs stage flash mob to highlight fatal shootings in their community

UMM AL-FAHM, Israel (Reuters) - At Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Circle, buzzing on a Saturday afternoon, around a dozen young people suddenly began to collapse slowly and theatrically to the ground, to the shock and confusion of Israelis out shopping or enjoying a coffee.

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“Did it scare you?”, flash mob organiser Mohamd Jabarin asked those watching, and proceeded to explain the intention - to draw attention to a surge of shootings within Israel’s Arab community and accuse police of failing to tackle the violence.

At least 24 Arab citizens of Israel have been shot dead this year, mostly by unknown assailants from within their towns and villages. The shootings, most often crime and gang related, have become a defining issue for the 21% minority ahead of a March 23 national election.

The largest expression of the frustration and anger felt by the community has come through anti-violence protests by tens of thousands in Umm al-Fahm and other Arab towns.

But the flash mobs are an attempt to raise awareness of the shootings in the heart of Jewish Israeli towns.

Demonstrators accuse the police of turning a blind eye to the violence, which they say is a result of poverty and years of underinvestment in their minority communities.

Israel’s police say they investigate all shootings and are continuing their work to gather illegal weapons, arrest all criminals and bring them to justice.

“The only solution for the inaction of the police ... is to take to the streets and mobilise the Palestinian Arab people,” said Enab Mhajne, 19, at the Umm al-Fahm protest on Friday.

Behind her protesters waved Palestinian flags, an unusual sight on the streets of Israel.

Israel’s Arabs - Palestinian by heritage, Israeli by citizenship - are mostly descended from the Palestinians who lived under Ottoman and then British colonial rule before staying in Israel after the country’s creation in 1948.

Some Arab politicians have advocated working with right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the violence.

Posters of Netanyahu have begun appearing in Arab neighbourhoods of cities like Haifa with a slogan bearing the Arabic slogan “We are with you”.

Netanyahu, who many Arabs accuse of discrimination against their community, has pledged 100 million shekels ($30.24 million) to combat violence in Arab localities.

But Luna Hasan, another one of the flash mob organisers, said Arabs should focus on collective action to address the shootings, rather than rely on any one politician.

“Arabs are represented in every aspect of the economy, in almost every aspect of life in Israel ... we deserve safety, and we deserve protection,” Hasan, 24, said.

($1 = 3.3073 shekels)

Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Alexandra Hudson