Adalah: Israel Loosening Gun Controls Puts Palestinian Lives in Peril

New regulations drastically expand the number of Jewish Israelis who are eligible to bear arms passed by Knesset committee amid state emergency. National Security Minister Ben-Gvir to heavily arm Jewish civilians and institute militias that will operate with impunity.

On 15 October 2023, the Knesset's National Security Committee approved new regulations that significantly relax the requirements for civilians to acquire firearms, as a step in the government’s broader plan to arm Jewish Israeli civilians. The new regulations were introduced by the Ministry of National Security, headed by the leader of the radical right-wing Jewish Power party, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who claims that this move will make an additional 400,000 individuals eligible, almost exclusively Jewish Israeli citizens.


The newly-adopted regulations expand the pool of those eligible to acquire firearms to include volunteers in Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency medical service, former police volunteers with over 15 years of service, as well as those aged 21 or above who have served for a year as a combatant or performed two years of military service, and women who have performed a year of national or civic service, without the need to complete the full term of their service.


CLICK HERE to read the press release from the Knesset’s National Security Committee announcing the adoption of the regulations 


Arming civilians and creating Jewish-Israel militias has been a clear priority for Ben-Gvir since he took office. The efforts to formulate the recently-enacted regulations started back in January 2023, and Ben-Gvir further publicly stated that before the October 7th disaster, the Ministry had distributed “a record number of 27,000 firearms”, with the goal of “providing citizens with as many firearms as possible.” 


Ben-Gvir is now using the brutal attack by Palestinian militants from Gaza on Israeli civilians on 7 October as a pretext to expedite this process and advance his agenda, noting that his ministry has been focusing on ”reinforcing the Rapid Response Teams”, which are civilian militias already present in many Jewish-Israeli villages in Israel and settlements in the West Bank, and distributing weapons to civilians. In fact, Ben-Gvir reported that the Ministry has already acquired 4,000 rifles of the approximately 20,000 they plan to purchase in the coming days for distribution among civilians.


It was further reported that Ben-Gvir had “given instructions for massively arming the civilian security teams to provide solutions for towns and cities, and so as not to leave towns unprotected, preparations will be made for a Guardian of the Walls 2”, and that the Ministry of National Security is reportedly planning to arm civilians on a massive scale in cities located close to Israel’s borders, as well as in the so-called ”mixed cities” within Israel and settlements in the occupied West Bank.


‘Guardian of the Walls’ is the title coined by Israel for the deadly events of May 2021. Ben-Gvir’s statement, along with his explicitly racist rhetoric against Palestinians, leave no doubt that these are weapons to be used against Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel. During the violent events of May 2021, organized groups of armed Jewish Israeli civilians, which then-Public Security Minister Ohana called a “force multiplier for the authorities”, attacked Palestinian citizens of Israel and their property in so-called “mixed cities”, with the cover of police collusion and judicial protection. In the city of Lod/Lydd, armed Israeli civilians killed Mussa Hassouna, a 31-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel, with cover from the police; in October 2021, the District Attorney for the Central District decided to close the investigation against all five Jewish-Israeli suspects identified in the killing. Ben-Gvir is drawing a clear and direct line between May 2021 and the current events by amping up firearm distribution in mixed cities and by explicitly stating that the authorities are preparing for ‘Guardians of the Walls 2’.


CLICK HERE to read more about the killing of Mussa Hassouna and Adalah's appeal against the closure of the cases against the Jewish-Israeli suspects.


Read more in Adalah's recent report: Two Years After the May 2021 Events


The tactic of arming civilians is imported from Israeli settlers in the West Bank, as a means of exercising control through terror. For years, settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank enabled by Israeli forces has been a near daily occurrence. Crimes committed by armed settlers almost never result in prosecution, let alone a conviction. Since 7 October 2023, settler violence in the West Bank has been rampant and escalating continuously. There have been over 70 reported settler attacks in the West Bank and at least five Palestinians have been killed by armed settlers.


The easing of restrictions on firearm licensing accompanies the subordination of Israel’s police forces to the National Security Minister, which Adalah and the High Follow-up Committee have petitioned the Supreme Court against, and Ben-Gvir's efforts to accelerate the establishment of a “National Guard”, which includes armed civilians, under his direct command. These developments are in line with a government commitment explicitly outlined in its coalition agreements. The National Guard is set to be composed of members of Israel’s Border Police, army reservists, and civilian volunteers, and is aimed against Palestinian citizens, as explicitly stated by Jewish Power party member and Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu, who stated that the “National Guard” is meant for “citizens of the country who identify with the enemy, such as [in] Operation Guardian of the Walls”. This statement perpetuates the racist perception of Palestinian citizens as the “enemy” of Israel's law enforcement authorities.


CLICK HERE to read about Adalah’s letter opposing the establishment of the National Guard.


The National Guard is thus a major tool in the government’s plan to institutionalize the arming of Jewish-Israeli civilians and further entrenches Israel’s policy of maintaining two separate law-enforcement systems based on national affiliation: one for Jewish-Israelis and one for Palestinian citizens. It joins existing militarized police units designated exclusively to deal with Palestinian citizens, including the Yoav Unit and the “Mista'aravim” (Arab impersonating) undercover unit. This two-tiered system of policing is absolutely prohibited under international human rights law and violates the basic principle of equality before the law.


Adalah commented:

“Ben Gvir’s policy of widely distributing lethal firearms among Jewish civilians is aimed at making it easier for them to shoot Palestinians. His blatant attempt to exploit fears surrounding the current violent events to justify the looser firearm regulations is part of his relentless incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel. By labeling Palestinians as “enemies”, Ben-Gvir, who does not conceal his racist views towards Palestinians, seeks to legitimize the blanket impunity granted to both Israel’s armed forces and ruthless Jewish-Israeli vigilantes for killing and injuring Palestinians. The Israeli government is now capitalizing on the rage and anxiety of Israelis, amid the fog of war, to entrench its system of apartheid in policing, as part of its supremacist policy.”


Photo: Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Twitter page