Fearing internal strife from Gaza war, Israel arms civilian security squads

Fearing internal strife from Gaza war, Israel arms civilian security squads
Fearing internal strife from Gaza war, Israel arms civilian security squads

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Israel has set up hundreds of volunteer security squads in the two weeks since the Hamas war erupted and is arming them should there be knock-on Jewish-Arab unrest, authorities said yesterday. — Reuters pic

JERUSALEM, Oct 22 — Israel has set up hundreds of volunteer security squads in the two weeks since the Hamas war erupted and is arming them should there be knock-on Jewish-Arab unrest, authorities said yesterday, despite what police said was “exemplary” conduct so far.

The last conflict in 2021 saw sometimes violent pro-Palestinian protests among the Arab citizens who make up 21 per cent of Israel’s population.

Triggered by a devastating October 7 mass-infiltration by Hamas gunmen, the current conflict — and escalations of hostilities on the Lebanese border and in the occupied West Bank — have stirred worries for Israel’s already frayed internal ethnic relations.

Israeli police have arrested dozens of Arab citizens on suspicion of incitement and support for Hamas, based on social media posts. Some lawyers for those arrested have described the measures as unlawful and designed to stifle dissent at the war.

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The police chief, Inspector-General Kobi Shabtai, said such monitoring enabled officers to pre-empt any eruptions of violence.

“There has been exemplary conduct here,” he told a parliamentary review panel, “and almost zero incidents, with all those pinpoint events being dealt with at the local level and with less media resonance”.

“There is dialogue with the (Arab) leadership and in parallel we are poised and ready for any scenario.”

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Minister for police Itamar Ben-Gvir has predicted that this war could see a repeat of the 2021 unrest and has ordered an easing of regulations for issuing gun licenses to private citizens. These generally require applicants to have served in the Israeli military, from which most Arabs are exempt.

An additional measure has been the setting up of volunteer security squads to patrol the streets and back up police. Shabtai said 527 such squads have been created since October 7.

The deputy director-minister of Ben-Gvir’s ministry, Eliezer Rosenbaum, told lawmakers that 20,000 firearms had been ordered for distribution to such squads, with another 20,000 to follow. He said volunteers would also be issued with flak jackets and helmets.

He did not elaborate on the kind of gun involved. Ben-Gvir has posted online video of himself handing out M-16 or M-4 assault rifles.

Naella Gelkopf-Belais, a social activist from the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Haifa, said police should work with civic authorities and be wary of “the creation of private militias”.

“We in the city are on a tinderbox,” she said.

Shabtai said security squads would be subordinate to police.

“It is good that there will be a lot of security squads and force, but caution must be exercised with this,” he said. “What is permitted and what is forbidden must be understood, and care must be taken that no finger is too light on the trigger.” — Reuters

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