On May 10, the mixed Arab-Jewish cities of Lod and Ramla were set on fire by communal violence.
Reporters on the scene described hundreds of young Israeli Arab men clashing with police in the streets and attacking Jewish sites such as synagogues and yeshivas. In the following week, riots engulfed most of the country's mixed cities, where large numbers of both Jews and Arabs live.
As riots escalated, several Jews became the victims of beatings by Arab mobs, among them was 56-year-old Yigal Yehoshua, who was struck in the head with a brick thrown by Arab rioters and died several days later. In Bat Yam, an Israeli Arab who mistakenly entering a rally staged by an angry right-wing Jewish mob, was severely beaten and required 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 show up at all.
As a result, 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.
According to the ministry, normally, 270 applications are made on a weekly basis, but between May 10-16, 1,926 requests were received. The number of requests has since went back to its usual national average, the ministry’s spokesman said. All of the applications came from Jewish citizens, the Haaretz newspaper reported.
S., is a car damage appraiser working for the Israeli government, and recently applied for a gun permit in the wake of the violence. As part of his job, S. visits people whose cars have been damaged to assess the financial damage.
“The latest wave of violence was characterized by a sharp rise in the number of vehicles damaged by stone-throwing and arson,” he said. “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 IDF, but in light of the recent events he 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 made for lack of a better solution.
According to Israeli law, all 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 military or otherwise.
However, only veterans of a combat unit or those who live in areas deemed "unsafe" 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 eventually approved.
Gilad Feldman, a shooting instructor who works at Imperial Ranges in Ramla, said 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 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 said. “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 gun licenses 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's tweet came after a Jewish man shot and killed an Arab Israeli during violent 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.
Article written by Daniel Sonnenfeld and reprinted with permission from The Media Line