Israel has eased restrictions on gun ownership, making over half a million people eligible to carry firearms, in a controversial move which could fuel concerns about the extrajudicial killing of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Under the new regulations, which went into effect on Monday, veterans of the Israeli army’s infantry units and police officers with similar training will be able to apply for a gun permit.
Furthermore, army officers ranked first lieutenant or higher and non-commissioned officers ranked first sergeant or higher would not be required to return their guns and permits when they are discharged from reserve service and thus could ask for permission to keep their weapons.
The new rules would also apply to Israeli volunteers in certain police units and medical organizations.
Additionally, individuals who have been in continuous possession of a firearm permit for 10 years would be allowed to keep the permit indefinitely without undergoing periodic tests.
Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who has long pushed for the reforms, claimed that the new regulations “increase public security” as they enable “skilled civilians” to defend themselves against "lone-wolf terror attacks.”
The fresh policy “strikes a balance between the need to defend the public which might be at risk and the need to protect the public from incorrect use of a firearm,” he said.
Under the previous rules, Israelis had to prove a need for firearms, such as living or working in an area considered dangerous and undergo regular testing and training.
Israel’s left-wing opposition party Meretz criticized the contentious rules, saying firearms “are a death machine whose civilian use needs to be reduced as much as possible.”
“Instead of dealing with the tremendous amount of illegal weapons on the streets endangering human lives, they are simply increasing the number of gun permits,” Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said in a statement.
Attorney Debbie Gild-Hayo of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel also warned that weapons endanger the public’s lives.
“Until a few years ago, the trend was to restrict the presence of weapons in public places as a means of preventing needless casualties, but since Erdan came into office we see just the opposite,” she said.
“It seems that our elected officials have forgotten their obligation to ensure the welfare of the public and strike a proper balance between security needs and the protection of civilians from the danger of numerous lethal weapons in the public sphere,” she added.
On numerous occasions, Israeli forces and settlers have fatally shot many Palestinians in the occupied lands, claiming they sought to attack the Israelis.
They also have been caught on camera brutally killing Palestinians, with the videos going viral online and sparking condemnations of the regime’s military.
Israel has come under fire by human rights groups for encouraging a shoot-to-kill policy.