With a weapon they fear no one. Nobody messes with them. They’re above the law. With a weapon they get a shortcut to what they call “a life of pleasure” – fast cash that paves the way to a lifestyle of luxury and privilege. Five young Arab men told Haaretz about the reasons they bear firearms – from respect and intimidation of rivals to self-defense.
In candid monologues they open a window to a world that most Israelis don’t know. A world in which weapons are almost a legitimate means of improving social standing, and the very act of possessing it provides protection no-one else can. And the police? They’re not in the game. Ordering a weapon is just like ordering pizza, they say – toppings included. It’s just a matter of money, which if you have enough of, will do the job the state authorities don’t. It’s the tale of a trigger-happy generation.
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Talal, 33, from Jaljulya, said: “Today the easiest way to fast money, to a life of pleasure, is through weapons. Nobody stands in your way, nobody says what are you doing, nobody dares bump into you. The road is open to you. When you have money nobody will refuse to sell to you even if you’re ten years old. As long as they make money.
“The law doesn’t exist. When you have money, you’re the law. Nobody tells you what to do, asks what you’re selling, drugs or guns. The police just look. They have no weight. Even in clear-cut murder cases they don’t catch suspects, and you want them to catch gun dealers? Every year they do a round for show on the drug and gun dealers, arrest a few suspects, and in a few days the dealer’s sales station is back in business, and the same folks are back dealing in a few weeks.”
He insists: “I’m not afraid. Those who have a weapon aren’t afraid. I don’t answer to anyone. The weapon gives you courage and confidence. When you walk around, those who know you’re armed will fear you when you meet them. Today, because there are so many weapons, every little scuffle ends in shooting. Over nonsense. When you have a weapon you’re willing to pull it out and fire over anything.”
Firas, 28, from Taybeh, explained: “If you have the money you can buy a Lau rocket. There are lots of dealers. There are second-hand dealers who buy from the big dealers what the big ones smuggle in (to the country) or get smuggled from the army. If the weapon is found in your house you might get in trouble, so you hide it in other places. Most hide it in an open yard by the house. Personally, I hide it in the mountains, where it’s safer. I keep switching the stash, wrap it in plastic and cloth to protect it, and bury it in the ground.”
He said: “I keep the weapon for self-defense. If someone tries to harm me, it’s deterrence. Some people only understand the language of weapons. If they know you have one, they mostly won’t even come near you, because there’s no one to protect them. The police don’t protect at all. Every complaint there ends in case closed. You’ll be surprised to hear this, but there are people you’d never suspect that carry weapons. Normative people. Because they want a sense of security.”
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Islam, 34, from Tamra, said: “There are many youngsters who say they carry weapons for self-defense, but many of them are lying. They carry them so others will say that they have a weapon and fear them. Some carry out for the looks, nothing more. They take it out at weddings and walk around the street with it.
“The problem isn’t the weapon itself. That you get easily. You just need to have the required amount of money. If you have it – you take what you want, an automatic weapon, pistol, improvised, whatever.
“There are a lot of ways to buy. It’s hard to explain but in short, it’s like ordering a pizza. Really easy, not much worry. Usually youngsters buy from a dealer, call him a subcontractor. There’s the big dealer, and smaller ones. If I need the weapon, will I use it? Yes, but not to harm people. To protect myself. In our lives today, you need a weapon.”
Muhammad, 26, from Qalansawe, said: “Firstly, I carry a weapon for self-defense. It’s like sending a message to the dangerous people that I’m here, alive and well, and best not to mess with me. But first and foremost it’s self-defense. The weapon gives you a feeling of power and courage. Thanks to it you get attention from people who realize you’re someone not to approach.
“There are places in every city known as places to practice shooting. You can buy anything, too, depending on how much money you have. An improvised gun (Carl Gustav) costs less than a regular weapon. A pistol goes for 15,000 to 20,000 shekels ($4,650-$6,200), can reach 40,000 too if it’s new. An M-16 rifle can reach 100,000 or more. It’s easy to get the weapons, either through the crime organizations or their soldiers, but in the end it all goes back to them, to the organizations.”
Abu Hajaj, 29, from Tel Sheva, explained: “I always feel threatened. And when a man lives under threat he needs something to protect him when there’s no other force protecting him. Maybe in our case it’s different, because after a relative is killed everyone is under threat and the weapons are in almost every house in the (extended) family.
“Honestly, I’ve loved firearms since childhood. I’ve always been interested in them. When I was little, I’d make pretend weapons from wood. And I also see it as something symbolizing strength and deterrence. Why do countries have armies and keep arming themselves? To deter other countries and protect from outside attacks. That’s how it is with us in Arab society, in the absence of someone to protect us.
“There are entire families that have been wiped off the map by criminals. I’m sure that if the victim families were considered strong and had weapons – nobody would come near them. If you tell me now “go shoot in the road or an open space,” I’ll tell you that I’m afraid. Not of people, but the police – of getting caught. It could cost me a good few years. But some people I know aren’t afraid. Me too, in an extreme case where I’ll need it, I won’t hesitate to use it.”
He added: “When have I used it? Once I fired in the air when I bought it. It’s customary to test the weapon before paying the full balance for it, see if there’s a malfunction or something. Another time I fired in a residential neighborhood to threaten someone who was threatening me, and once at a relative’s wedding.”