Via IANSA Women's Network
International Action Network on Small Arms

Israel - Gun Free Kitchen Tables Campaign Successful



On 6 December, 2011, the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women convened a special meeting with several Knesset members, police and government officials, for the occasion of International Human Rights Day. The meeting, initiated by the Gun Free Kitchen Tables campaign, was dedicated exclusively to the campaign demand: Enforcing an existing law restricting security guards’ guns to their places of work and prohibiting guns from being taken home by security guards at the end of their work shifts.

The campaign, joined to date by 10 other civil society and women’s groups, followed up on a year old request that the Committee address the threat posed to thousands of women by off duty security guards being allowed to keep their guns, and end the continuing failure of the executive branch to enforce this life saving law. 

The Chair of the Committee on the Status of Women, Member of the Knesset (MK) Tzipi Hotoveli, opened, stating the gravity of the statistics collected by project activists. MK Zehava Gal-On continued with a proposal to handle security guard companies very firmly, suggesting a freeze on licensing new arms to all security guard firms. She said, "They are no man’s land, existing beyond and outside of law'.

Addressing the Committee, campaign activist and IANSA woman Rela Mazali stressed the lack of police data on murder weapons and their origin, and requested that the Committee instruct the police to revise their database to include, and make accessible, details on murders according to the type of weapon, its origin and ownership. Rela then explained  why the issue of the possession and storage of guns in the home by off duty security guards is pertinent to, and dangerous for, women in particular. 

She cited the impracticality of safe storage in the home for such guns, and challenged the implicit assumption that the burden of taking weapons to central storage sites would be borne by the already underpaid guards. She pointed out that the solution should be financed by those making the profits, namely the heads of security guard firms and the major employer of these firms, the government. 

Campaign activist Alamnesh Zalaka shared testimony on her personal experience, after being shot and hit by 8 bullets at close range by her security guard husband. She gave an outline of how she filed a complaint with the police due to her partner’s violence about a year before the shooting, after which he was denied a license to possess guns. However, the gun was later returned to him without her knowledge. 

Attorney Smadar Ben Natan explained the existing law and pointed out a direct contradiction between its substance and the detailed instructions issued by the Ministry of Public Security, which allow security companies to allow security guards to take their guns home after their work shifts have ended.

The Committee Chair concluded with the resolution that the committee would instruct the Minister of Public Security to ensure enforcement of the law, within a two month period. The Committee will convene a follow-up meeting to monitor implementation.

Gun Free Kitchen Tables has achieved the ambitious aim to generate public discussion on the implications of small arms proliferation, an issue which is not often talked about in Jewish Israeli society. 

Dozens of signs with the campaign poster with the message “Guards’ Guns Unsafe at Home” were carried by activists in the 25 November march and 500 copies were displayed on billboards throughout Tel Aviv. Thousands of people have been following the campaign on facebook, blogs and youtube, where a one-minute campaign video highlights the murders of women with security guards' guns. 

The campaign and its demand are now a known entity in mainstream media in Israel, with television and radio interviews of the activists and substantial newspaper coverage. 

Sadly, the murder of Aviva Makesh Jambar with a gun held by an off duty security guard on 11 December, joined the chronology of women’s  preventable killings. "While we still haven’t succeeded in preventing these murders, we can safely say that the campaign has succeeded in placing the issues we’re raising onto the public and government agenda and introducing them into public discourse," says Rela Mazali.

The same day, the campaigners met with the Public Security Ministry Chief of Staff and Legal Advisor, who informed them that the Ministry was in the process of formulating amendments to the existing law, ensuring that they would have practical means for enforcing it (including financial sanctions for offending companies and options for shutting them down). 

High level officials claimed that one reason for the slow process is because of their demand for these amendments which requires discussion and revision of existing laws. They said there would be considerable opposition in the Knesset to this legislation and asked the campaigners to press for its enactment, both through the public sphere and directly among Members of Knesset. "Although this is going to be difficult, we’re poised to intervene at a point where it actually has a real potential for achieving change,"' says Rela Mazali.