(p. A8) GIV’AT ADA, Israel—Since the Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel, Liran Kaminer has been sleeping with an ax, a knife and a first-aid kit within arm’s reach. He has stashed away empty beer bottles and gasoline for Molotov cocktails. And he has applied for a gun license.
“I am a hippie. I am peaceful, I don’t like this whole gun thing,” said Kaminer, 50, who lives near the village of Giv’at Ada in the coastal plains of central Israel. “But if the army cannot protect me, I have to protect myself.”
Many Israelis who never thought about owning a weapon are now applying for one. Israel’s right-wing government is encouraging civilians to arm themselves and relaxing rules to make it easier to own one. Across the country, volunteers are forming self-defense units after the Hamas attacks killed 1,200 Israelis in communities along its southern border, took the army by surprise and left civilians helpless for hours.
Applications for a gun license have gone up 600% since the attack, a huge increase in a country where there are strict gun-control laws. It is a trend that reflects the deep anxiety over personal safety in the wake of the attacks and of the army’s failure to protect Israeli civilians that day.
“Weapons in the right hands save lives,” said Itamar Ben-Gvir, the country’s minister of national security, who has made the arming of Israeli Jews his flagship policy.
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Since Oct. 7, the government has relaxed gun-ownership rules, sped up the application process for new licenses and supplied military-style rifles to new, rapid-response units staffed by local volunteers. It has also expanded the criteria for who can carry private firearms, including residents in additional geographical areas and people who received basic-combat military training.
According to government data, over 265,000 Israelis applied for a gun license between Oct. 7 and early December , compared with around 36,000 earlier in the year. Around 85,000 licenses and conditional permits have been issued in the recent period.
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In Kibbutz Regavim—a farming community in central Israel where residents share child care and volunteer in a communal avocado plantation—keeping residents safe became the priority after the Hamas attacks. Around 30 residents volunteered to set up a rapid-response unit, whose members staff the entrance gate and go on patrols inside and outside the kibbutz. The perimeter fence was reinforced, and broken closed-circuit cameras fixed.
“People felt that what happened in the kibbutzim in the south could happen to our kibbutz, and started getting weapons,” said Shahar Butbul, a resident who helped set up the armed unit.
Members of the unit are mostly men who have completed their mandatory military service and reserve duty, such as 66-year-old Eyal Nabet, a former truck driver.
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 11, 2023, and has the title “Israelis Flock to Buy Guns as Sense of Security Shatters.”)