The Israel Police seem to be changing its view on armed citizens, said senior Israel Police Commander Kobi Yaakobi, a day after a photographer for the Ynet news outlet stopped a terrorist attack in the city.
“The police are constantly learning lessons,” Yaakobi told Ynet in an interview on Wednesday. “We encourage responsible citizens – who have passed all the checks – to carry weapons. It’s not happened only once that we have seen courageous citizens, like the member of the press yesterday, who acted as a determined hero,” he said.
Another Israeli civilian, who managed to stop a terrorist attack in Beersheva at the height of a terror wave across the country in March, saw his weapon taken away after a confrontation with police. The incident did not repeat itself in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
“We did not take away the weapon from him,” Yaakobi said of photographer Meshi Ben Ami. “We will have a small investigation through which his weapon will not be taken away.”
Ben Ami was driving in the Ramot neighborhood of northeastern Jerusalem when he noticed the terrorist stabbing a bus driver on Golda Meir Boulevard.
The assailant, a Palestinian man in his 40s, had boarded bus line 147 and attacked the man with a screwdriver. The driver, who was moderately injured, stopped the vehicle and opened the doors to let the passengers flee.
“I stopped the car by the side of the road,” recounted the Ynet photographer. “I got out and saw many people and children fleeing the area. As I approached the scene, I saw a person covered in blood shouting ‘help’ and then he was being stabbed with a screwdriver.”
“Someone threw a stone [at the perpetrator] and then he got up and started walking my way,” Ben Ami continued. “I identified the screwdriver in his hand and yelled ‘stop!’ as my weapon was already cocked and aimed at him. He didn’t stop. When he was 2 meters away from me, I realized that I had no other choice but to neutralize him, because lives were in danger.”
“When you carry a weapon, you also carry responsibility for the people who are innocent – helpless civilians,” Ben Ami said to Ynet. “You become some sort of a security guard. And then you must exercise judgment.”
Yaakobi praised Ben Ami for his actions, saying that the attack “could have been much deadlier if it weren’t for the vigilance of two civilians who acted as first responders.”
The incident in Jerusalem occurred a few days after a mass shooting at the Indiana Mall in the United States was stopped by an armed bystander.
The shooter fired 24 rounds from an AR-15-style rifle in the mall’s food court, where he killed three people and injured two others. He was stopped by 22-year-old Elisjsha Dicken, who was carrying his pistol.
Local police in Greenwood said that “many people would have died … if not for a responsible armed citizen that took action very quickly within the first two minutes of this shooting.”
Whereas the U.S. Constitution grants American citizens the right to bear arms, Israeli citizens do not have a right to bear arms, unless the state approves it.
“Israel and America work in reverse ways,” former Knesset Member Moshe Feiglin told ALL ISRAEL NEWS for a recent article. He was at the forefront of Israel’s gun debate during his tenure in the Knesset.
“Instead of saying, ‘You are allowed to have a gun as long as you are not problematic’ – that’s the U.S. – here, the basic concept is you are not allowed to have a gun unless you meet certain qualifications,” the former lawmaker explained.
In Israel, a recent six-week wave of terror attacks, which resulted in the killing of 19 people, has reignited the debate over armed civilians. Between March and May, the country saw a 600% increase in firearm applications.
More than 32,000 applications for gun licenses were filled so far this year, of which about 12,000 applications were entered for processing. Throughout 2020, according to Channel 12, only 8,983 sought to obtain a gun license.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.