GIVAT ZEEV, West Bank — The phones have been ringing nonstop at the Gun Hill shooting range, following a week of daily knife attacks by Palestinians and a clarion call by Israeli politicians requesting that permit holders should carry their pistols on their hips to help protect the citizenry against terrorists.
“It’s a madhouse,” said Yair Yifrach, general manger of the training center and gun shop here at a Jewish settlement north of Jerusalem.
Perhaps not the best choice of words for a shooting range. “But people are going a little crazy,” Yifrach said.
Israelis are frightened by violent demonstrations and daily attacks by Palestinians, not only in the West Bank but also in the heart of Israel. On Monday, Palestinians staged three stabbing attacks against Israeli civilians and police in Jerusalem; two of the attackers were shot dead, Israeli police said. One victim was a 13-year-old boy.
Yifrach, a gun instructor, does not think it is a good idea to have a bunch of undertrained, anxious Israelis rushing to own guns. But he does support the idea — as do most Israelis — that civilians who are veterans of military service trained in responsible use of firearms are a “force multiplier” on the streets.
“In truth, getting a gun permit in Israel is not easy — that’s what I tell people,” Yifrach said.
Most will not meet Israel’s criteria, he said. In that case, Yifrach offers them pepper spray: “very, very strong pepper spray.”
How many cans of spray has he sold? “Hundreds” in the last week, he said.
Herzl Kabalo, head of the firearms department at the Ministry of Public Security, said there has been a sharp increase in the number of people requesting to renew permits or applying for new permits to carry a gun.
The spike in gun interest comes amid a spate of attacks by Palestinians against Israeli forces and citizens — assaults carried out by knives, stones and vehicles. In several instances, Israeli civilians have shot the perpetrators; in most, however, police and soldiers have done the shooting — sometimes in controversial videotaped events that Israeli human rights activists have called disproportionate and Palestinians have called extrajudicial killings.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was photographed last week carrying his Glock 40 with an Israeli-made Roni carbine extender that turns a handgun into a rifle, while visiting a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
“Given the current escalation in the security situation, those with a licensed firearm who know what to do with it must go out. It’s an imperative,” Barkat told Israel’s Army Radio.
Barkat waved off criticism of possible vigilantism or bad optics, even though Jerusalem’s No. 1 industry is tourism.
“This is something Israelis understand, appreciate and feel secure with,” the mayor told the Associated Press. “In America and in Europe, if you see civilians carry guns you get scared. In Israel, it’s exactly the opposite.”
Barkat was probably not speaking for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank or East Jerusalem, who are not allowed to possess firearms. Jewish settlers living nearby are permitted to carry.
“We can only expect that more violence and oppression will arrive in the coming days,” Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said about Barkat’s call for Jewish Israeli civilians to carry their weapons on the street.
“Against the cowardly Arab terrorism, a wave of Jewish courage is rising to defeat it,” said Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister. He applauded swift action by armed Israeli civilians.
An Israeli parliamentarian, Yinon Magal, told Army Radio, “I’m not saying we should take the law into our hands and lynch people,” but “whoever is trying to kill us should be taken out.”
At the shooting range and gun store here, the shop manager pointed out how hard it is to get a permit in Israel. Laws in the United States are far more permissive — “they're cowboys,” he said of the Americans. In the background, the pistol fire in the sound-muffled underground shooting range sounded like a hammer pounding nails: plunk! plunk! plunk!
About 260,000 Israelis have permits to carry a firearm, or about 3.5 percent of the population. Half of the permit holders are private citizens, and half work for security firms.
Israeli applicants must submit paperwork, military records and medical reports, and must justify their need to carry a weapon. Approval takes 30 days. Aresident of Tel Aviv will not be given a permit, though residents of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank will be. So will retired army officers, former police officers, firefighters, ambulance technicians, special forces vets, licensed public transportation drivers and residents of militarily strategic buffer zones, as well as those who live or work in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem — including the Old City — and the West Bank.
The Public Security Ministry requires gun owners to fire 50 rounds with a licensed instructor. The permits are good for three years and must be renewed.
Akiva Isaac was at the store to buy a more compact pistol. He lives in Ofra, one of the first Jewish settlements built in the West Bank in the 1970s. “You don’t have to persuade me it’s a good idea to carry a gun,” he said.
But Isaac said Israel should not lower standards or make gun ownership easier. Carrying a gun did not necessarily make him feel safe. “It is a burden and a responsibility,” he said.
Moshe Fidler, a retired undercover police detective, lives in Jerusalem and always carries his sidearm, a Glock 21-C, which he called the “limousine of handguns.” He also did not think that widespread permitting of guns was the solution, even though in civilian life he fired the weapon to scare off Palestinian rock throwers.
“You don’t need to throw gasoline on the fire,” Fidler said. “Guns are serious things. One split second of stupidity can cause a lot of damage.”
Asaf Sela, an army veteran and resident of the Jewish settlement of Beit El, was undergoing six days of intensive firearms training to work as a security guard at his community. He agreed that it is a good idea for all Israelis with gun permits to carry their weapons, but he stressed they should be properly licensed.
“A lot of untrained Israelis running around with weapons would be a big mess,” he said.