Out of the difficult Gaza invasion campaign and the growing fear of the development of a multi-front war, a new initiative has been born in ultra-Orthodox society: the establishment of defense and guard systems within ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods located near the seam line or in mixed cities. The program, called 'Mishmar Ha'am', or 'The People's Guard' is already starting to operate in about 20 ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods across the country and is continuing to expand.
The goal of the project, a joint initiative of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs and Achim L'Oref, which receives training from the Hashomer Hachadash organization, is to concentrate all volunteer activities under one umbrella, to provide appropriate training for volunteers who carry weapons and those who do not, and to assist in the process of issuing a weapon license for those who want it and are permitted to.
"The ultra-Orthodox public is facing a significant challenge," said program director Roni Ayalon Hirsch, an officer in charge of the Defense Forces patrol. "We have enemies for who the first place they would prefer to go is the least protected and skilled public, which has no way to defend itself. We have established a defense body that will help the ultra-Orthodox public as well as any neighborhood, settlement and agricultural farm that needs it. There are communities whose residents have permission to issue weapons, in Beitar Illit there are already 2,000 ultra-Orthodox people with a gun license, but they have no idea what a weapon is. They don't know how to operate a weapon, what to do with a weapon, and even worse, what not to do with a weapon."
"We are locating coordinators in the communities who have some experience, those who were soldiers in the army or ultra-Orthodox who volunteered in the police, and each such coordinator will know how to coordinate all the forces under him: unarmed volunteers, armed volunteers who took out private weapons and those who are in police alert classes. The goal That it will be used both in emergency and routine, for deterrence as well as for warning," according to Ayalon Hirsch.
The ultra-Orthodox public, says Hirsch, supports the initiative. "They came in droves," he said. "We have centers in Har Nof, Givat Ze'ev, Beit Shemesh, Rekhasim, Haifa and more. We received a call from the Rebbe of Vizhnitz to help them set up such a system in their community. Both the rabbis and the residents are very cooperative."
Uri Arbis, from Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem, founded and coordinates the security group in his neighborhood. "Until October 7, my attempt to explain the importance of establishing civil defense in the neighborhoods fell on deaf ears," he said. "After the massacre, I realized that an expedited process of a civilian force that could defend itself needed to be established here, so we built a civilian defense system that is supported and based on civilians with weapons and an alert squad that operates together under the police.
"Every time the residents of the neighborhood see me, they tell me thank you very much and that I am doing a great mitzvah," he added. "The vast majority want to volunteer, even those who cannot draw a weapon. We want to be independent, so that even if the police don't come, as happened in the south, we won't be like sheep to the slaughter. All the rabbis in the neighborhood are very supportive. There is approval from them. I went to walk on Shabbat with weapons and also with a cell phone, without touching then of course if there is no need."
Shmuel Drilman, a resident of Har Nof who volunteers in the program, explained its necessity. "We were in a situation where there was nothing and there was no coordination between gun owners," he said. "Within a few days, many volunteers were organized and we managed to establish a standby squad of close to 50 gun owners."
On Rifman, vice president and co-founder of the Hashomer Hachadash, which leads the training, summarized the success so far of the initiative. "Following the terrible disaster in the south, the ultra-Orthodox sector also realized the existential need for local protection of the ultra-Orthodox communities, as well as the need to volunteer for the effort and help where needed. For this purpose, the Hashomer Hachadash organization volunteered to assist in the training and activation of the volunteers who will enlist in the People's Guard initiative. The training will be carried out subject to the security forces, including the Israel Police and the local authorities. The decision to establish the People's Guard is a defining event in Israeli society and everyone who can come and support the process and the volunteers should join," according to Rifman.