Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said Monday that it is legitimate to call on armed Jews to protect Jewish communities in the city of Lod, which saw violent tensions erupt between Jewish and Arab residents during the previous escalation in Gaza.
Ohana was responding to a letter from Joint List MK Ofer Cassif, who said last week that a Lod city council member's call for armed Jews to protect the mixed city's residents constitutes incitement.
Ohana wrote in reply: "I disagree that it is incitement. The call to citizens to defend themselves against their attackers, with the means of firearms for which they have a legal license, among others, is a legitimate call." He signed off his letter, "There were times when Jews were defenseless and powerless against their attackers. Thank God those times have passed."
Lod has been the site of violent clashes between the city's Arab and Jewish residents earlier this month. Synagogues were burned down, a Muslim cemetery was vandalized, homes were firebombed and shops were smashed and looted during the riots. An Arab resident, Moussa Hassouna, is suspected to have been shot by an armed Jewish resident during the riots, and a Jewish resident, Yigal Yehoshua, was killed by stones thrown by Arab residents at his car afterwards.
On Friday, a Habayit Hayehudi representative on Lod's city council, Amichai Langfeld, called on Jewish gun owners to come protect the city's residents. In a visit to the home of a family that was hit by a firebomb during riots, Langfeld said "I don't trust that the Israel Police will succeed in protecting us. Ahead of Shabbat, we call on armed people, just as there were here during the Shavuot holiday, to come and protect us." Lod Mayor Yair Revivo, who stood next to Langfeld during the visit, cautioned people not to take the law into their own hands.
Following Langfeld's statements, Cassif wrote a letter to Ohana warning that "there is an explicit call for armed people to take the law into their own hands and even to use live fire… all of this under the auspices of the Lod mayor, who stood beside the inciter."
Cassif added that "without immediate intervention on your part to stop the blatant incitement from escalating to violence, a horrible tragedy may occur."
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In his response, Ohana wrote: "Unfortunately, we live in a world with limited resources, and therefore the country (and any country) does not have the ability to station a police officer at every street corner and an undercover cell in every neighborhood. More than once, a civilian has been forced to deal with a life-threatening event long before police forces arrived."
Ohana noted that the law states that there are scenarios in which a civilian can fire a gun. "Do we expect that [a civilian] will wait for police to arrive even at the cost of their life or that of another? Certainly not; the law allows them to act in self-defense in their time of need."
In turn, Cassif replied: "There is no dispute as to whether someone can defend their lives or those of others. But we are not discussing self-defense, as the inciting words of Mr. Amichai Langfeld are not a call for self-defense, but for organized groups to come to a specific place and walk around there while carrying weapons – that is, to establish illegal militias.
"In addition, the events of the past weeks, as well as journalistic investigations, prove that a large amount of those who heeded the calls are not interested in protection, but rather in attacking Arab civilians, whoever and wherever they may be. That is, peaceful citizens with nothing to do with acts of violence," Cassif wrote.