The promise of Zionism is that with a state of their own Jews would no longer be helpless victims without the means of defending themselves. Yet 66 years after the establishment of Israel, Jews are being stabbed, run over, stoned, and blown up in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Galilee, while their government repeatedly fails to protect them.
While it took the police only 11 minutes, and paramedics 16 minutes, to arrive at the recent massacre at a Jerusalem Synagogue that was not fast enough to save the lives of 5 innocent Israelis. Yosef Posternak, who was at the synagogue at the time told Israel Radio that “People were trying to fight with [the attackers] but they didn’t have much of a chance”
The Israeli government correctly maintains that the police and army cannot be everywhere at all times. Certainly, no government action can completely eliminate random, spontaneous attacks. There is however another solution: The answer to the “knife intifada” is to grant the Israeli people the right to bear arms and to use them in self-defense. If one or more of the 25 worshipers had been armed with a gun the situation would have almost certainly turned out differently and the 5 dead and 7 wounded citizens would be home today with their families.
It is odd that Israelis, who so often admire and imitate American culture, should follow the European model on this issue. After all, Europe was the site of our greatest suffering precisely because of the powerlessness of the Jews. The first law passed by the Nazis decreed that German Jews could no longer own guns. Disarming the Jews was the necessary prerequisite to the Holocaust, just as it had been throughout the long centuries of European pogroms, massacres and persecutions.
Here in the United States, friends are incredulous when I tell them that most Israelis do not currently have the right to bear arms. They cannot understand this in light of over a century of Palestinian terror. In fact, terrorist attacks have often been prevented by the few Israelis who do carry firearms, such as off-duty soldiers or police.
It is no accident that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment to the United States Constitution. This right is integral to the history of the country and the American character. The United States was established by armed citizens who won their freedom from a tyrannical and capricious British Monarchy. In its place they established a revolutionary new form of government in which power flows from the individual to the state and not vise-versa as in Europe. The founding fathers of the United States recognized that the ultimate guarantee of the individual’s freedom and sovereignty is his right to bear arms.
This right, and the rugged individualism it represents, were essential not only to the founding of the United States, but to its expansion across the American continent and rise to world power. That the United States trusts its citizens to bear arms I take as evidence of the exceptional nature of the American experience. Like most Americans, I view this trust as sacred, and doubly so as a Jew.
While opponents have claimed that the second amendment is archaic, the overwhelming majority of the American people and the Supreme Court of the United States believe otherwise. In landmark cases in 2008 and 2010 the court reaffirmed the individual citizen’s right to bear arms in self defense and made clear that the right to bear arms remains as valid today as it was in 1776. This right is so dear to the American people that those ideologically opposed to the second amendment, like President Obama, do not attempt its repeal, for to do so is considered political suicide.
I am originally from New York, where state laws make it more difficult for citizens to own guns, leaving them defenseless against criminals who do. Years ago I moved to Arizona where, by contrast, everyone who is of age, mentally competent, and not a convicted felon may own a gun, and often does. A criminal contemplating violence against a citizen of Arizona has to consider the high probability that his intended victim is armed. Not surprisingly, violent crime is much lower in states like Arizona than in states with restrictive gun laws like New York.
A gun is a great equalizer. An elderly woman with a simple hand gun trumps the biggest, baddest terrorist with a knife every time. It is often unnecessary to open fire in order to deter an attacker; merely presenting the gun is usually sufficient.
The idea that arms and freedom go hand-in-hand is also in line with the oldest traditions of the Jewish people. To emphasize their transition from slavery to freedom the Torah notes that “The people of Israel went up armed from the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:18). Esther does not ask the Persian King for state protection, but for the right of “the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them.” (Esther 8:11)
No less important is the deterrence of foreign aggressors provided by an armed populace. Powers contemplating an attack on the United States know that beyond the U.S. military, they face 300 million guns in the hands of U.S. citizens. The deterrence of an armed citizenry is even more critical for Israel, surrounded as she is by enemies bent on genocide against her.
Rather than just aping American popular culture, Israelis would do well to adopt laws similar to the U.S. second amendment and the free spirit of self-reliance it represents. They would be better off emulating the unconquerable spirit of the American people who recognize, like their founding fathers, that only a people armed is truly secure and free.
The goal of terror is to cow the civilian population into a state of helplessness, defeatism and despair. Rather than allowing Palestinian terrorists to realize this goal by remaining defenseless, Israelis should act like “a free people in their own land” and demand the right to bear arms.
Additional changes to Israeli law are also necessary. Those who throw rocks and Molotov cocktails should serve long prison services for sedition and attempted murder, not be back out on the street in a few hours. But arming the citizenry will bring a real, immediate, and much needed improvement in personal security for the Israeli people and do much to restore the rasion d’etre of the Jewish State and secure its future.