Knesset Panel Calls Urgent Session on Illegal Arms in Arab Communities

The issue was recently raised by Netanyahu following Tel Aviv attack, but Arab lawmakers claim they have asked the government to deal with the issue in the past.

Men standing in a shooting range in Kfat Sava.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee will hold an urgent discussion on Wednesday on the issue of illegal weapons, an issue Prime Minister Netanyahu evoked in regards to Israel's Arab community following Friday's terror attack, prompting anger by some who claimed the community has for years asked the government to address the issue.

“In the Arab community alone, thousands of illegal weapons are circulating,” committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud) said. “A significant portion of them were stolen from the Israel Defense Forces. Illegal use is made of them every day to hurt citizens of this country,” both in terror attacks and in other types of crime.

“The Israel Police is afraid to operate in these areas, in part because of the enormous quantity of arms found there and a serious shortage of manpower,” Amsalem continued. “We need to set up new police stations, recruit policemen and go into all these towns with the goal of enforcing the law, restoring order and restoring security to the country’s citizens.”

The Knesset’s newest MK, Amir Ohana (Likud), said over the weekend that he wants to enact legislation that would significantly increase the number of armed civilians on the streets by making it easier to get a gun license.

“My aspiration is that every citizen with no criminal background or relevant medical history who does reserve duty should be able to carry a licensed weapon if he wants to,” Ohana wrote on Facebook in response to Friday’s shooting attack in Tel Aviv.

He dismissed the argument that this would lead to more murders and suicides, insisting that any such increase would be outweighed by the number of lives that could be saved by having more armed civilians able to take down terrorists.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said the government must do more to crack down on unlicensed guns in Arab communities.

Though the Tel Aviv shooting was apparently carried out with a licensed gun, which the assailant stole from his security guard father, Lapid said the attack was “a product of the fact that it’s possible to buy weapons in all kinds of places in Israel, just like you go buy sunflower seeds at the grocery store.”

Arab Knesset members, headed by MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List), repeatedly demanded during the previous Knesset that police take steps to enforce the law against unlicensed gun owners in Arab towns who fire in the air during weddings. MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) claimed over the weekend that she tried to launch such an effort when she served as justice minister in the last government.

“The proliferation of guns in the Arab community isn’t a new issue,” she said. “At a meeting I scheduled with Arab mayors as justice minister more than a year ago, following a wave of violence at that time, they raised the issue of their own initiative and asked that the police go everywhere, collect the weapons and enforce the law. I raised their request at a meeting of the [diplomatic-security] cabinet attended by the public security minister and the police commissioner.”

Livni said the government must engage in such an effort now, “especially when leaders of the [Arab] community are pointing out the danger and calling for it. This isn’t just an opportunity, it’s a duty.”