On May 10, the Israeli cities of Lod and Ramla and Tel Aviv’s Jaffa quarter were set on fire by communal riots.
Reporters on the scene described hundreds of Israeli Arab young men clashing with police in the streets and targeting Jewish targets such as homes and synagogues. In the following week, riots engulfed the country, and private and public property was destroyed in additional so-called mixed cities, where large numbers of both Jews and Arabs live.
Several Jews were the victims of “lynches,” beatings, by Arab mobs, and an Israeli Arab who, unaware, made the mistake of entering an angry right-wing Jewish crowd, was severely beaten, requiring hospitalization.
A common complaint voiced by citizens throughout Israel during the days of violence was that the police were absent, either responding too late or failing to respond at all.
Meanwhile, the Public Security Ministry – which oversees the Israel Police and is responsible for gun licensing in the country – saw a significant spike in requests for permits to carry a weapon. Normally, 270 applications are made weekly, but between May 10 and May 16, 1,926 were received, according to the ministry. The number of requests has since returned to normal, the ministry’s spokesman told The Media Line.
All of the applications came from Jewish citizens, the Haaretz newspaper reported.
S., who preferred not to be named, is a car damage appraiser working for the Israeli government, and recently applied for a gun permit in response to the violence. As part of his job, S. drives to people whose car has been damaged to assess the loss they sustained.
“The latest wave of violence was characterized by a sharp rise in the number of vehicles damaged by stone-throwing and arson,” he told The Media Line, “and as part of my job, I had to drive throughout the country to produce reports regarding hundreds of cars that were damaged in mixed [Arab-Jewish] neighborhoods.
“In the past, I used to enter neighborhoods and villages across the country without fear, but the rise in violence from Israeli Arabs, together with the terrible events of aggression against innocent civilians, has led me to the conclusion that my personal safety is in danger,” he said.
S. said that he had not held a weapon since his time in the army, but that “in light of the new reality that I am experiencing, I felt it was necessary … to apply for a gun license.”
He added that “the inability of the Israel Police to be present on every corner” also contributed to his decision, which he said was reached for lack of a better solution.
All Israeli citizens can apply for a license to carry a firearm once they reach the eligible age, which varies depending on whether the applicant has completed the mandatory period of national service, in the army or otherwise. However, only those who fall within specific categories, such as living in certain areas or being a veteran of a combat unit are likely to receive a license to carry a private firearm and a very limited supply of ammunition. Some of the conditions for eligibility – such as a military background – mean it is easier for Jewish citizens to be licensed. Applicants go through a screening process that includes checking their criminal background and health records. Approximately 60% of applications are accepted.
Gilad Feldman, a shooting instructor who works at Imperial Ranges in Ramla, told The Media Line that the demand “is huge for firearms following the events of recent weeks.” Despite the information received from the Public Security Ministry, he does not feel the demand is abating.
“I think that people’s sense of security has gone down because of the latest events following the war in the area near Gaza, as well as what happened in Lod and Ramla,” he said.
“People driving with their family anywhere in the country want to know that they can protect themselves,” he continued. “There are many places where you can’t drive safely and you need to pass through them.”
Feldman said the recent rise in demand for licenses and guns is not unprecedented, but rather reflects a pattern that occurs every time the country is rocked by violence. People who were unable to get a license bought pepper spray instead, he added.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana tweeted at the height of the intercommunal violence that “law-abiding citizens who carry a weapon strengthen the ability of the authorities to immediately neutralize threats and dangers.”
Ohana sent the tweet after a Jewish man shot and killed an Arab Israeli during the riots in Lod. The shooter was arrested on suspicion of murder but claimed that he was acting in self-defense. He was later released on bail and barred from entering the city for several days.
Feldman agrees with Ohana.
“The greater the number of armed civilians, … the higher the sense of security, because you can’t station a policeman at every street corner in Israel,” he said.
The shooting instructor stresses that in addition to the application screening and initial training, gun owners in Israel must attend a mandatory safety training session every 18 months.