Editorial |

To Protect Its Citizens, Israel Must Say No to Arming Civilians

Haaretz Editorial
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The city of Lod, a flash point for the violence, last week
The city of Lod, a flash point for the violence, last weekCredit: Moti Milrod
Haaretz Editorial

The riots in the mixed and Arab cities have increased the sense of insecurity among many in Israel, and as a result, their desire to arm themselves has also increased. Last week, 1,926 Jewish citizens applied for gun licenses – seven times more than the weekly average. This is a very worrisome figure, which shows first and foremost that the police have failed to give people security.

Their fear is understandable. The reports of events in Lod, Ramle, Acre, Jaffa and other cities and communities are disturbing, and it’s only natural for people to want to defend themselves. What’s more, the riots are happening at the same time in various places throughout the country and the police can’t be everywhere at the same time.

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The problem is that weapons don’t only serve as protection. A situation where people are defending themselves with weapons – whether licensed or not – is a dangerous one, and could lead to escalation. The police also say that this is not the solution to violence in the streets. This may be seen from the fact that over the past few days the police have confiscated dozens of licensed weapons from Jews who “came to protect” the Jewish residents of Lod.

But while the police are trying to get rid of firearms and enforce the law, there are ministers and MKs who are encouraging civilians to take the law into their own hands. Horrifyingly, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana is the one encouraging the establishment of armed militias. “If the police can’t be everywhere and at every incident, it’s the right of citizens to protect themselves with weapons, certainly now with the riots in the city,” the minister in charge of the police said last week.

Ohana is a great believer in arming the public in ordinary times. For a long time now he has been working to whittle away the criteria for possession of a firearm; recently he extended the regulation that allows security guards to carry their weapons when they are off-duty. If in ordinary times Ohana supports the arming of civilians, how much more so in times of crisis. That is exactly what he tweeted last week: “Law-abiding citizens carrying weapons multiply the power of the authorities to immediately neutralize threat and danger.” In the same breath he also rebuked the police who arrested four suspected Jewish shooters in Lod. Yamina chairman MK Naftali Bennett made similar remarks.

The newly licensed firearm owners will join the approximately 145,000 civilians already licensed to own weapons. When to this is added the number of illegal firearms in Arab communities, the result is a certain recipe for civil war. This phenomenon is particularly worrisome when viewed through the prism of violence in the family – especially toward women. Instead of allowing this uncontrolled arming of civilians, the country’s leadership has the responsibility to protect people and give them a sense of security.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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