Following the terror wave that swept through Israel between March and May, the Netzah Yehuda Association — which helps and accommodates Haredi soldiers during their military service in the IDF — announced the establishment of an armed national community watch, dubbed Project Shield, with the aim of providing security services and immediate response during emergencies and terror attacks.
Volunteer squads would consist of IDF veterans, mainly from the 97th Netzah Yehuda Battalion — the IDF's first Haredi combat battalion, and part of the Kfir Brigade.
In recent months, eight Israelis were killed in terror attacks in Bnei Brak and Elad — both Haredi cities. It seems Palestinian terrorists have identified Haredi communities as a weak spot due to the sector's low participation in the military and gun ownership.
Just last week, a Haredi from Bnei Brak was stabbed just outside the city with police suspecting the attack had a nationalistic motive.
Project Shield was founded in cooperation with the Public Security Ministry, the Israel Police, local authorities, and not less importantly, with the blessing of local Rabbis. As part of the project, veterans of Haredi IDF combat units will be trained to respond to terror attacks and other emergencies in the Haredi community.
With the launch of the program at the beginning of the week, it was announced that a pilot would first be launched in Jerusalem, and if deemed successful, it would later be expanded to other cities as well.
Units would provide security services to synagogues on Saturdays and Jewish holidays and would have a direct communications channel with law enforcement and local authorities to reduce response times.
Project Shield volunteers will be able to obtain a firearm license through a fast-track process, receive specialized training, and qualify for a police IDF that would provide them with legal protection and insurance coverage if needed as well as other benefits.
Some 200 volunteers arrived at the project's inaugural event and will begin their service immediately while 1,500 others have also signed up. In addition, 100 more Haredi men have asked to join the police force on a full-time basis following recent events.
"I saw that the Haredi sector doesn't carry guns in large part," said Dubi Lichter from Beit Shemesh who was discharged from the military a year ago after serving in Netzah Yehuda.
"I went to a wedding last week and even the security guards at the entrance were not armed. So I decided that if there was an option to join a community security service like in many other places, then I would like to be a part of it.
There's a wide response. People want to protect their homes, neighborhoods, and synagogues. Even people who didn't serve in the military, like my father, want to become a part of this project."
Haim Bar Zakai, a father of two, also was also eager to throw his hat into the ring and attend the first meeting.
"Once the Netzah Yehuda Association announced Project Shield, it was clear to me that I'm in," he said.
"The recent terror attacks on Haredi cities proved that armed civilians can save lives, and unfortunately we don't have enough of those in our communities. My friends and I, as IDF veterans with combat experience, can contribute and restore the sense of security to the streets, and that's what we will do because that's how we were raised. When Israel calls, we answer."
Netzah Yehuda Association director and the man behind Project Shield, Major (res.) Yossi Levi, said that "in the days following the terror attacks on Haredi cities, the penny has dropped."
"As an organization that helps and accompanies some 14,000 IDF Haredi veterans, we can provide Haredi cities with a solution in the form of hundreds of volunteers that would provide security to Haredi communities where practically no one owns a weapon.
Fortunately, the Public Security Ministry, the Israeli police, and many local municipalities already expressed their desire to join and assist this important national project. For now, Jerusalem will pilot this important initiative. I would like to thank the mayor and other officials who promoted the idea in the city."