Arming Jewish militias is preparing ground for all-out terror

Ameer Makhoul

Middle East Eye  /  February 14, 2023

Ben-Gvir’s new policy of distributing weapons to Israeli Jews will further embolden militias to threaten Palestinians’ lives.

Israel has recently introduced what it believes to be a lethal weapon in imposing its hegemony on the homeland of the Palestinian people: the legalization of firearms possession for its Jewish population.

It turns out that those coming out in droves to submit requests for gun ownership are supporters of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, who have been organizing for more than a year as militias operating in the Naqab (Negev) and along the coast. 

Their slogan – also embraced by Jewish settlers and their terrorist gangs such as the “hilltop youth” – is to “restore order”. It is clear from public records that the majority of gun licence applicants are those same settlers.

Since Itamar Ben-Gvir’s assumption of control over the Ministry of National Security – with the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and following the two incidents in Jerusalem on 27 January, it is as if the volatile mix of state and street violence has become intertwined into one system.

However, this proposed legislation was not initiated by Ben-Gvir, but was heavily promoted by former public security minister, Gilad Erdan. Discussions around it increased in the wake of the Karamah (“dignity”) Uprising in May 2021, with some politicians pushing for it as a matter of state policy.

Indeed, armed gang violence has always been welcome by the Israeli state, with every Israeli minister blatantly violating Palestinian rights under the purview of their respective ministry.

This atmosphere allows armed gangs to openly violate Palestinian rights, creating a whole system of perpetrators with no accountability, and presenting their terror as riots between two equal sides in status and responsibility. 

This gang violence also changes the rules in which victims of this out-of-control racism will not know who is attacking them, or which party, while the police and the Shin Bet will only hold the victims responsible, subjecting them to unjust trials and convictions.

Guerilla warfare

Guerilla warfare has always been a part of Zionist history in Palestine – defined as unconventional war waged against a conventional standing army in circumstances that are advantageous to the guerilla groups.

It is the same type of small but continuous, long-term war waged by revolutionary movements against oppressive regimes with armies that outnumber them many times over. They adopted strategies to drain the oppressive system in an effort to overthrow it. 

After the defeat of the Arab armies in 1967, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement in the 1970s was considered part of the revolutionary guerilla resistance that brought the Palestinian issue to the forefront, enshrining the people’s right to return, as well as their liberation and self-determination.

Israeli security and research institutions have expended great resources in order to understand the movement and its impact.

Zionist settlers in Palestine both past and present employed guerilla warfare for their own colonial purposes. In order to control and occupy the land and expel the indigenous population, they would infiltrate Palestinian communities posing as Arab “Musta’arabin” living among them.

They would frame their tactics as serving a liberation movement against the Palestinian “invaders” and label Palestinian guerilla warfare and self-defence as “terrorism”.

Historical crimes

In 1948, Jewish gangs such as the Haganah assumed the role of a state army, yet functioned in ways a regular army could not by occupying towns and displacing their population. 

The role of these gangs was to commit burglary and looting, and to take over a vast number of homes, shops, public facilities, mosques, churches, and all of their property.

This strategy served a dual purpose: enriching the Jewish community financially, including soldiers, as well as preventing the return of the expelled Palestinians to their homes and towns. In the event that they did return, their homes would have been ransacked and occupied by looters, if not destroyed altogether.

These gangs were not subject to any legal accountability and their criminal activities were in fact sanctioned by the newly established state. Another one of their roles was to launch armed attacks on Palestinians, such as dropping explosive barrels on markets in the coastal cities, forcing their displacement, expulsion, and ethnic cleansing. 

This pattern of manufacturing power and violence has been adopted repeatedly in Israeli universities, which witnessed bloody attacks against Arab students in the 1970s and 1980s, as police forces and Shin Bet became fully integrated.

When Arab students organized, heavily armed police and security forces stormed their universities with terrorist gangs beside them. As the fascist right attacked Arab students with iron chains and knives, police stood by as onlookers.

The police, right-wing gangs, Shin Bet, and university guards coalesced into one unit during clashes with students. These groups entered the university campus and since they were not among its students, they were not subject to disciplinary courts and no one questioned them.

Arming militias

This pattern also manifested during al-Karamah (dignity) uprising, where the police and armed gangs teamed up to suppress the Palestinian protests. The gangs behaved as the extralegal weapon of the police, carrying out neighbourhood attacks, home invasions, and physical attacks of defenceless residents.

More than 3,000 Palestinian Arabs who defended their neighbourhoods were arrested, hundreds facing indictments and harsh sentences, while the Israeli state turned a blind eye to those terrorist gangs.

In the aftermath of Al-Karamah uprising, the plan to establish semi-official and permanent terrorist militias was introduced by the Otzma Yehudit party, starting from the Naqab and Beersheba/Bir al-Sab all the way to the coastal cities.

The leaders of the fascist party organized alongside the municipalities and the police under the guise of restoring “law and order” but, in reality, waged a judicial war against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

In order to prevent a recurrence of the Al-Karamah uprising, the Israeli government has made preparations to establish a “National Guard” comprising of thousands of volunteers, trained in the combat units of the occupation army. Its goal is to support police efforts in the targeting and suppressing of ’48 Palestinian communities while protecting the Judaizing forces in the Naqab.

to distribute Israeli-licenced weapons – supported by Netanyahu – among the Jewish public is dangerous for Palestinians. It threatens their existence and exposes the government’s disregard for their lives and rights.

It creates an atmosphere conducive to racist crimes and ethnic cleansing, and is unlikely to be reversed in any future change in the ruling coalition.

This new policy of distributing weapons to Israeli Jews will further embolden armed militias to threaten Palestinians’ lives and violate their safety and rights, while evading any accountability. 

Ultimately, the Israeli government led by Netanyahu and his far-right coalition will bear responsibility for subjecting Palestinians to the terror of this state-sponsored guerilla warfare.

Ameer Makhoul is a leading Palestinian activist and writer in the 48 Palestinians community; he is the former director of Ittijah, a Palestinian NGO in Israel; he was detained by Israel for ten years.