Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has raised a new yet ancient idea for fighting terrorism: to establish an armed force – based in part on civilians volunteers, partially from the “New Hashomer” – that will operate not only in emergencies or disturbances of the peace, but in regular times too, “in as much as needed,” as he explained at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Further, Bennett said he had instructed the National Security Council to present “an orderly and budgeted plan to establish a national civilian guard” by the end of May.
The recent terror attacks may be the immediate backdrop for this initiative, but its roots, as Bennett himself has said, are in the riots that broke out a year ago in some of the mixed cities, home to both Arabs and Jews, during the last round of fighting in Gaza. In May 2021, convoys of armed settlers came to Lod, invited by the local “Torah cell” and aided by the municipal authorities, to “protect the residents.” Right-wing elements, inside and outside the Knesset, raised the demand to establish Jewish “preparedness squads” in the mixed cities, to be supervised by the Israel Police or the Border Police. Those supporters sought to mimic the armed networks in the settlements and import them into Israel proper.
How the new national guard will operate has yet to be publicized, but Bennett’s statement, that it would be employed “in emergencies and disturbances of the peace, and in regular times too,” should set off an alarm. Any use of governmental powers by civilians requires caution, transparency and tight oversight. It is highly doubtful whether such virtues are consistent with, for example, allowing armed Jews to seek out Arab suspects during tense times in sensitive places.
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The security forces are obligated to treat all citizens equally. Use of semi-official bodies that will operate in gray, fairly broad areas is a gateway for interested parties to act out of ulterior motives – from “demonstrating governability” to other expressions of Jewish supremacy. Oversight, both professional and public, of such organizations will be loose and biased. This is not the way “to restore personal security to Israeli citizens,” as Bennett put it, but a path to civil war.
The dream of a “National-Civil Guard” patrolling the cities and providing security to residents is a mirage. The state and its authorized agents have a monopoly on the deployment of organized armed forces. Privatizing security and handing it to forces that will likely consist of Jews alone is dangerous and sends a threatening message to the Arab public. This is a dangerous powder keg, certainly for life in the mixed cities. The plan must be shelved immediately.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.