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How Easy Is It to Get Hold of Illegal Firearms in Israel?

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Could anything resembling the Sandy Hook school massacre in the United States happen here? Some commentators maintain that Israel's relatively strict gun laws render it unlikely, but Israel Police statistics show that in 2011 there were 1,060 reported shootings involving the use of illegal weapons - and it's assumed that the actual number is even higher. The number for 2012, they say, will be even greater than that.

Illegal guns abound, and in some areas they have even been used by teenagers to settle scores at school.

In May of this year, the body of a 16-year-old who had been shot to death was found in a field near the village of Ilut, near Nazareth. An investigation by police led them to a teenager in the village who was fighting with another pupil at school. The teenager had bought a pistol, and while he was practicing firing the gun, he accidently shot and killed his friend.

This was not the first time a school dispute involving firearms led to tragedy. In May 2009, two groups of teenagers from Jaljulya were quarreling on the school bus. One of the teens acquired a Kalashnikov rifle and, together with his friends, ambushed the bus between Kafr Bara and Kafr Qasem. The teen opened fire on the back of the bus and killed one of the passengers, Amjad Shavana, a 15-year-old from Kafr Qasem.

The gunman was sentenced to 25 years in jail, with the judge decrying "the ease with which one settles a dispute by violence, and in this case with the most serious violence of all, the use of an automatic weapon that took a life."

It's no secret that it's easier to find illegal weapons in Arab neighborhoods, where almost anyone in a village or town can direct you to the local dealer. In Jewish communities it might take a bit longer, but not much. "Today, if you go to certain places and ask someone where to buy a gun, he'll refer you to a second person, and by the third person you'll be able to find what you want," said a senior police official. "Whoever wants to get a weapon illegally in Israel will be able to get one."

In most cases, police say, you'll never meet the actual dealer; they work through agents, who check out potential customers to make sure they aren't undercover cops. Only then will the agent complete the deal and arrange for the customer to get his weapon. Sometimes weapons are handed over in dark alleys; other times the deal's done in public places like gas stations and coffee shops. Often the location is chosen for its proximity to a weapons cache.

Where do the weapons come from?

About six months ago, police were shocked to discover a weapons cache in the Sharon area containing numerous weapons that bore no serial numbers - including Tavor rifles with silencers, sniper rifles, submachine guns and pistols. An investigation found that two Israel Military Industries employees had been stealing unmarked weapons for a lengthy period and selling them to criminals.

The Central Unit of the Northern District Police, meanwhile, uncovered a factory in Nazareth last year that was manufacturing guns and explosive devices and supplying them to dealers all over the country. What surprised the detectives was that the weapons producers were working according to instructions they had downloaded from the Internet - precise directives that showed them how to build weapons identical to those sold elsewhere.

The Internet has also been making gun theft much easier. Sites like Yad-2, for example, where people who hold licensed weapons can advertise them for legal sale, have made it easier for burglars who specialize in gun theft. All they have to do is call the seller and find out where he lives; from there, it's easy.

Illegal weapons are also stolen from Israel Defense Forces bases, as well as smuggled in from the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan. Recently, the Border Police intercepted the delivery of a gun that had been sent from Turkey to an apartment in Ramle. The gun had apparently been ordered over the Internet.

A police official claims that while the situation in Israel is far from that of the United States, with regard to the quantity of weapons available, "when there's a demand, there'll always be someone to supply."

How much do illegal firearms cost in Israel? Credit: Haaretz
The families of victims grieve near Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman opened fire on school children and staff in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Credit: Reuters
A child looks out of the window of a school bus carrying students from the Newtown school district as it makes its way past the a funeral for a Sandy Hook student, Connecticut, Dec.18, 2012.Credit: Reuters

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