Carrying a pistol
Carrying a pistolYonatan Sindel/Flash90

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s Minister of National Security recently declared that his ministry’s current strategic goal in response to the spike in Palestinian Arab terror will be to loosen strict restrictions on Israeli citizen’s eligibility to receive a license to carry a concealed weapon. The current Minister of National Security, evidently has reached the conclusion that the police forces of which he has ministerial responsibility cannot fulfill their governmental and legal responsibility to sufficiently protect the people of Israel. Over the past two years, we have witnessed a sharp increase in Palestinian Arab terror not only in Judea and Samaria ('West Bank') but also on the streets of major cities in the center of the country

According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center; in 2022 there was a substantial rise in the number of Palestinian Arab terrorist attacks against Israel. Eighty-six significant attacks were carried out, up from 54 in 2021, 40 in 2020, 34 in 2019 and 55 in 2018; 16 of the attacks were carried out inside Israel's pe-1967 borders (one in 2021). 31 Israelis were killed (25 civilians and six members of the security forces). One Border Police fighter was killed in an operational activity in Samaria. In 2021 three civilians were killed. Sixteen terrorist attacks were carried out inside Israel's pre-1967 borders.

There were 46 shooting attacks (the most deadly form of attack) during the year, 54% of the total number (12 in 2021). There were 25 stabbing attacks, 29% of the total (30 in 2021). Seven were vehicular ramming attacks and four were combined attacks. In addition, according to official sources, there were about 3,000 instances of rock-throwing (about 7,600 according to the IDF) and about 500 instances of Molotov cocktail-throwing (about 1,200 according to the IDF).

Despite these alarming statistics, for most of us in Israel, terror attacks are experienced by watching the news and not from personal experience as we go about our daily lives. I say this as a resident of the Shomron (the central-northern part of the 'West Bank') and as a person who travels freely and frequently on the roads throughout Israel. On the other hand, many hesder soldiers live in Judea and Samaria and feel the need for a weapon when they drive on the roads. Recent murderous attacks at Huwara and Hermesh brought that home.

השר איתמר בן גביר בניחום אבלים בביתו של מאיר תמרי הי"ד
השר איתמר בן גביר בניחום אבלים בביתו של מאיר תמרי הי"דצילום: דוברות

Photo: Min. Ben Gvir paying a condolence call to the Tamari family after Meir Tamari's murder.

Let's face it. The Palestinian Arabs have been rebelling and resisting the presence of Jews in the Middle East for over the last century and nothing has changed in their determination to rid the Middle East and the world of Jews. We have witnessed endless cycles of murderous Palestinian Arab terror culminating to unprecedented levels during the late 1990’s when at the peak of the Second Intifada, in response to the Oslo Accords, Palestinian Arab suicide bombers wreaked havoc on the buses and streets of Israel.

Since the year 2000, the repetitive cycles of Palestinian Arab terror were slowly brought down by successive governments led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to levels that were manageable and tolerated by the people of Israel. During the previous Lapid-Bennett governments, the uptick in Palestinian Arab terror was renewed.

The current debate in Israel on the expansion of gun licenses to larger population eligibility groups reminds me of an event that I participated in during my military service in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) during the late 1980’s when the first Intifada broke out, and Palestinian Arab terror spiked. At the time, the question that arose was not whether to arm Israeli citizens and thereby “farm out” governmental responsibility to protect the citizens of Israel, but whether to arm soldiers serving in rear-echelon non-operational units in the center of the country. The thinking was that these soldiers come and go on a daily basis on the streets of central Israel, and their armed presence will deter terrorists.

The notion that these armed soldiers will also be able to respond in the event of a terror attack was not the main rationale due to their limited training and military experience in operational and tactical responsiveness. Deterrence was the central mindset behind the idea of having more guns out there on the streets of Israel, similar to the current debate concerning Minister Ben-Gvir’s current policy change to enlarge eligibility for gun licensing.

At the time, during 1987-1988, I was instructed to participate in a policy decision meeting in the Kirya (IDF military headquarters) in Tel-Aviv concerning a decision to arm non-combat soldiers. I had prepared and written a policy position assessment that I distributed to the participants at the beginning of the meeting. I was serving at the time as a mental health officer with experience in operational units as well as with non-combatant soldiers. The central thesis of my position paper was that should soldiers serving in non-combat positions be given guns on a large scale, we should consider and anticipate the following possibilities as a result of increasing the availability of tens of thousands of additional personal weapons:

1. a significant increase in the rate of suicides among soldiers,

2 a significant increase in gun related violence against women and family members, and

3. a significant increase in the theft of guns from the homes of the non-combat soldiers.

My recommendations were dismissed at the end of the policy meeting.

In a major study published in 1993 entitled “Death without Warning” on suicides among IDF soldiers, the authors concluded that different stressors were found to be related to suicide however 30% were due to romantic rejection, and 33% were due to financial and family related problems. This high rate ( 63%) of suicides for reasons unrelated to actual military service can only be explained, in my opinion, by the availability and immediacy of a personal weapon alongside emotional stress and difficulties under pressure. The 1990’s witnessed a sharp increase in the suicide rates of soldiers in the IDF.

As the debate on whether to allow tens of thousands of additional personal weapons to be brought into the homes of Israel becomes an immediate dilemma for the government, my sense of “déjà vu” has become a stark reality and not a forgotten memory. Over the past 25 years, the increase in family violence and the use of deadly force against women as well as the significant increase of theft of weapons in homes by criminals who funnel these stolen weapons to Palestinian Arab terrorists have become a too often repeated reality in Israel.

Professionals I have engaged have repeatedly reminded me that the scale and rate of gun related deaths in Israel are miniscule in comparison to the United States where mass shootings have become a daily reality. In 2021, 48,830 people died from gun-related injuries in the United States according to the CDC. This figure includes gun murders and gun suicides, with suicides accounting for more than half of the gun deaths in the United States during 2021.

As Israel’s Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir advances his decision to increase the availability of personal weapons for tens of thousands of Israelis, the issues at hand and the need to take additional factors into account as they consider different levels of risk-assessment is imperative. The issue here is not one of gun control, but the price Israel is willing to pay for putting average citizens on the front line of fighting and responding to the uptick of Palestinian Arab terror.

Ron Jagergrew up in the South Bronx of New York City, making Aliyah in 1980. Served for 25 years in the IDF as a Mental Health Field Officer in operational units. Prior to retiring was Commander of the Central Psychiatric Clinic for Reserve Solders at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring has been involved in strategic consultancy to NGO's and communities in the Gaza Envelope on resiliency projects to assist first responders and communities. Ron has written numerous articles for outlets in Israel and abroad focusing on Israel and the Jewish world.

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