Sacrificing the fight on domestic violence in the name of security

Under the cover of a wave of terror attacks, Israeli lawmakers are rolling back hard-fought achievements in the struggle against domestic gun violence — and for political gain.

By Rela Mazali

Illustrative photo of a plainclothes security officer by Photo by ChameleonsEye /
Illustrative photo of a plainclothes security officer by Photo by ChameleonsEye /

A key committee in Israel’s Knesset approved a proposed amendment to the Firearms Act earlier this month that will unnecessarily put dozens of women’s lives at risk.

The amendment, which still needs to be voted on by the full legislature, would effectively void Clause 10c(b) of the Firearms Act prohibiting private security firms from storing their firearms in guards’ homes – a change that since 2013 has put a complete stop to a string of murders in security guards’ homes and families.

Upending this sweeping prohibition and the specific, temporary exemptions it allows, the new amendment would authorize the minister in charge unlimited authority to  send firearms back into the homes of some 70,000 private security guards in Israel.

That decision, I discovered by speaking with parliamentary aides and political advisors as part of my advocacy with Gun Free Kitchen Tables “is a done deal.”

The committee meeting earlier this month had been decided outside of the meeting room. It was decided by a government determined to show that it is taking practical steps to better defend its citizens from terrorist attacks. And by a minister of public security who, it seems, is trying to brand himself as the guy who handed out more guns and unleashed more fire-power.

Rather than discussing them, then, the committee meeting vaulted lightly over the predictable consequences of the amendment – more preventable murders. Three voices that tried to place that context back on the table were all outsiders: Roman Litrovnik, whose parents and grandmother were murdered with the gun that a security guard brought home; Knesset Member from the Joint List, Dov Khenin; and myself. With three magic words, “the security situation,” our voices and appeals were trivialized and marginalized.

A number of women Knesset Members obviously understood the amendment’s grave implications. But they knew the deal was done. They trimmed their opposition down to size, proposing insignificant, impractical addenda to the amendment. None took the risk of seriously opposing it and marginalizing herself. Their cosmetic changes presented them as opponents of violence against women (or possibly soothed their consciences) and applied a grotesque layer of makeup to the renewed permit for armed violence in thousands of homes. I found this the saddest and most shameful part of the theater of democracy enacted by the committee.

My own participation in the discussion-that-wasn’t, as well as that of other Gun Free Kitchen Tables activists, may have played a similar role, upholding the illusion of democratic process and collaborating with a legal act that re-enables murder. While this question – debated among us – remained open and painful, we felt it wouldn’t be right to refrain from trying to stand in the way of the amendment, even though we knew it was going to pass.

Consequently, what we brought to the committee meeting was mainly pain. Because this was a deal done and sealed at the price of human lives. Literally. What was sold out in that room was the life of the next woman – or man – who is killed with a security guard’s firearm taken home after duty. It’s only a matter of time.

It didn’t take very long after starting, in 2002, to follow and document murders committed with the off-duty private weapons of security guards, before I understood that the next one was only a matter of time. I lived with this constant awareness for 11 consecutive years. Year after year, women (the majority of those killed) and men were shot with security guards’ off-duty guns in homes and in families. Some years it was one. Some years it was five. Together, 33 women and men were shot and killed in 11 years. All of them, or almost all of them, victims of preventable murders.

That judgment, that they were preventable, is firmly grounded in the fact that these killings stopped completely in the summer of 2013. That summer, following a particularly horrific year and intense advocacy by Gun Free Kitchen Tables, the minister of public security directed private security firms to stop storing their firearms in guards’ homes. A large majority of security guards indeed stopped taking home their firearms and started storing them at their work sites. This transpired after years during which we (GFKT) were told that such a change was impossible – that it would jeopardize national security.

This was the key fact over which the committee meeting leapfrogged. A searing, stomach-turning fact disappeared by the charade of democracy. Eleven years of preventable killings followed by two-and-a-half years of no killings. And now, an amendment to the policy that has prevented the killings. The government is making a policy decision to re-enable a predictable pattern of murder.

“The current security situation” and “security needs” are the alleged justifications for the amendment. That is, the supposed necessity of balancing the broader security situation with the need for protecting women against domestic violence.

An additional fact that the committee ignored, however, is that from October through the end of December 2015, during the first, highly concentrated wave of current attacks, the guns of off-duty security guards played no role at all in stopping attacks. Not once. Not even in stopping suspected attacks. This was the case despite a “temporary provision” which had already allowed guards to take guns home. Data collected carefully by GFKT indicates that only 14 of 166 shooting events in these three months even involved security guards, all of them on duty.

These were the facts that lawmakers deftly pushed out of view and out of the debate. Security guards don’t need to carry firearms after their work shifts. The amendment doesn’t provide any added protection against terror. It serves purely political purposes, and meanwhile reinstates the requisite conditions for murder.

Rela Mazali, a writer, an independent scholar and a feminist activist, is one of the leaders of Gun Free Kitchen Tables.