Distrust, Fear and 'Self-defense'

High-profile Campaign to Collect Guns From Israeli Arabs Flops

Half a million shekels in advertising and dozens of collection points, but just a handful of illegal weapons were collected in a week — and mostly from Jews

A weapons collection point in Lod, November 21. 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The security guard is napping at the Payis Center in Lod’s Rakevet neighborhood, which is serving as a collection point for illegally held weapons. On Sunday morning no one had yet come to the center, one of 50 collection points set up for the latest Public Security Ministry and police campaign to help battle crime in Arab communities. So it was at other collection points, like in Jaljulya and Kafr Bara.

The lack of interest points to the likelihood of this being another amnesty campaign to collect weapons from the Arab public that’s doomed to failure. During the first week of the campaign, which began last Sunday, only 29 weapons were collected – 15 rifles and 14 pistols. In fact, only nine of the weapons came from the Arab community; most of those turning in weapons were Jews exploiting the opportunity to submit them without being prosecuted.

The ministry spent half a million shekels ($145,000) on the campaign, most of it in Arabic-language media and on Facebook, but apparently the more than 150,000 illegal guns (not including ammunition or other weapons like grenades and explosives) will remain in the owners’ possession. Neither the ministry nor the police had very high hopes for the campaign, assuming that at best a few dozen weapons would be taken out of circulation.

Weapons collected during gun-collection campaign in 2019.
Israel Police

“The importance is in conducting the campaign,” said a senior police officer. “To show that there is goodwill as part of the war on crime.”

There were four murders this past year in Kafr Qasem and nearby Kafr Bara, along with a series of shootings that were part of inter-clan disputes. Unlike past campaigns, this time the local authorities, including in Kafr Qasem, which suffers greatly from violence, were recruited to assist: A collection point was set up in the front yard of city hall, which has a view of the nearby police station.

An excited security guard in Kafr Qasem said that half an hour earlier, someone had come with a Kalashnikov rifle.

“I didn’t ask him anything; he just came and put it down,” the guard, Meir Gozal, said. But the Arab security guard who works with Gozal – but who, unlike Gozal, is unarmed – said he got the impression that the person who returned the rifle was a Jew.

“I don’t think they did enough advertising,” Gozal said. “But we’re here and we’re getting all kinds of weaponry. Yesterday someone returned a pistol that’s newer than mine.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tours the police department in Tamara, October 2019.
Gil Eliahu

It was the same in Kafr Bara: an armed Jewish guard alongside an unarmed Arab one. “That’s to give the public a good feeling, that there’s no police involved,” said Gozal.

Khaled Issa, who is responsible for security and emergency services in Kafr Qasem, doesn’t think the meager response means the tactic is a failure.

“It takes time for these things to trickle down, but it can’t come by itself,” he said. “The minute the prime minister doesn’t see the battle against weapons in the Arab community as a high priority, and especially when the courts don’t mete out strict sentences to those who have illegal weapons, the situation will continue. It’s really a revolving door and there’s no strong deterrent.”

Kafr Qasem turns out to be the most successful collection point to date; it has also collected a few hunting rifles and especially weapon parts and bullets. In these cases, however, most of owners turning them in were Jews.

At the empty collection point in Kafr Bara, the armed Jewish guard is sitting sleepily in his vehicle while the unarmed Arab guard is standing next to the empty box that’s waiting to be filled. Both say that no one has come forward since the campaign began. It was the same in Jaljulya.

“Unfortunately, the campaign has failed,” says Ibrahim Hujirat, the guard at the Kafr Bara collection point. “Whoever has military equipment isn’t going to come and give it in just like that, because in the villages and communities there are clan disputes and people want to defend themselves. They’re afraid. Unfortunately no one has come here and even those who did come were Jews with old equipment from the 1970s.”

He blames Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week claimed that the Joint List wants to destroy the state. “The prime minister’s behavior hasn’t increased the Arab community’s trust in the state,” Hujirat says. “It doesn’t help coexistence.”