Calls for gun control in Israel
Anne Barker, Sunday, March 18, 2012
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Israel is one of the most militarised nations on earth. The long-running conflict with the Palestinians means a large army, conscription for men and women, and a highly visible proliferation of military weapons and personnel everywhere. But it's also led to an alarming incidence of domestic gun-related crime against women because of a huge rise in the private security industry. And yet, because of the mindset of many Israelis who support the need for such security, there's only one disarmament lobby group in the country. Now that group has launched a campaign to tighten Israel's gun laws, before more women are killed. Here's our Middle East correspondent Anne Barker.
ANNE BARKER: Just over a year ago Alumnesh Zalka was almost murdered in her own home. Her partner Avi Rdai shot her eight times in the head, the stomach, the uterus and the legs. Amazingly she survived, but she was critically wounded and still needs regular surgery. Avi Rdai, who then shot himself and also survived, is now serving nine years in jail. Alumnesh Zalka still doesn't know why the assault happened. But Avi Rdai was the jealous type, she says, short-tempered and possessive, and one day he just snapped, seized the gun and began shooting.
(Alumnesh Zalka speaking)
"He played with the gun a lot", she says. "He would use it as a toy and point it at me. He kept it on the kitchen table. And I kept saying 'stop it, this scares me, why are you doing this?' At which point it would then erupt into an argument." In fact crimes like those against Alumnesh Zalka aren't so rare in Israel. And they reflect a worrying phenomenon among security guards.
Avi Rdai was a guard for the company Ben Avi which supplies security for shops, businesses, restaurants and the like. Since the Second Intifada, when Palestinian suicide bombers and other militants regularly attacked Israeli targets, security companies like these have sprung up all over the country and armed guards are today employed almost everywhere.
Rela Mazali represents Israel's only disarmament lobby group.
RELA MAZALI: There are places where gun violence is worse than Israel, there's no doubt about that. The thing is it's getting worse. It's rising. Although there've been military arms for many, many years that have been available and very visible in the public sphere, the last few years of privatisation of the authority to enforce violence have really caused a huge proliferation of small arms in the public sphere and the civil sphere in Israel. So that now, indeed, as Alumnesh was pointing out, every supermarket, every bank, every often cafes, restaurants have armed guards in front of them in the way that wasn't frequent 15 years ago.
ANNE BARKER: So would you say indirectly then the conflict, the military conflict, between Israel and say the Palestinians or the Arab world generally, is feeding the industry that gives rise to these kinds of murders?
RELA MAZALI: Yeah. It's feeding the industry, although I would say it's mostly feeding the mindsets that accept this and don't question it, rather than the actual need for the industry. It's true that the burgeoning of this industry happened chiefly around the years of the Second Intifada when there were a lot of bombs going off in civilian buses and civilian centres in Israel, but the number guards hasn't dropped substantially since that has subsided.
ANNE BARKER: And while there are legal and licensing laws designed to stop security guards taking their firearms home at the end of the day, loopholes in the law mean they're hard to enforce. It's given rise to a phenomenon known as 'guns on the kitchen table', and Rela Mazali says women are paying a disproportionate price.
RELA MAZALI: We're the only disarmament organisation that exists. There's no anti-gun lobby. It doesn't exist here due to the very extensive and deep running militarisation of this society. And the fact that the Jewish majority basically see guns as very benign, and only there for their protection. Which in fact not only obliterates the problematic of small arms proliferation and its dangers but also obliterates what security means for different genders, and for different groups and different parts of society. Because guns at home are not by any means there for women's protection. They endanger women disproportionately.
ANNE BARKER: A Knesset committee in Israel is examining the laws surrounding firearms use and licensing, particularly as they relate to security guards. And the head of the Firearms Licensing Department admits there are too many loopholes in the law that make it easy for guards to take firearms home.
(Amit Yaakov speaking)
"The law to do with firearms is from 1949", says Amit Yaakov. "It's been amended few times, but there's an understanding in the Knesset that it needs further amendment and reorganisation. We're also checking to see if all places that are guarded now need to be. In the past because of the intifada and other issues yes, they did, but perhaps now many don't."
ANNE BARKER: With or without stricter laws though, Amit Yaakov says anyone intent on killing or wounding a partner will find the means to do it whether or not they have a firearm. And he quotes a recent Knesset hearing which was told that for every gun related homicide, there are many more people killed with knives. Nevertheless, gun licensing procedures are being tightened to keep firearms out of harm's way. Rela Mazali says without such checks women will continue to pay the price.
RELA MAZALI: Guns are gendered. They have different meanings and different implications for the different genders. And this needs to be taken account of in any society that is even purporting to provide security for its citizens.
ANNE BARKER: Providing security though for Israelis like Alumnesh Zalka might paradoxically require fewer security guards like her partner Avi Rdai.