Israel conducts illegal weapons amnesty

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There are a lot of guns in Israel. You see them carried by soldiers as you walk down the street; on the hip of the security guard checking your bag as you enter the bank; and even by licensed civilians who live in or travel through areas Israel acquired in the 1967 war.

Israel’s Ministry of Public Security has embarked on an amnesty campaign to collect illegal, unlicensed firearms, promising that anyone who hands over their unlicensed gun will not be prosecuted. Unlike similar campaigns in the US where the concern is violent crime, misuse of firearms is a greater problem relative to suicides. 

Yakov Amit, the head of firearm licensing in the Ministry says there are 160,000 licensed civilian weapons in Israel, along with 130,000 guns licensed to institutions such as security companies. According to law, Israelis must renew their gun permits every three years, including a requirement for shooting practice.

According to officials, there are about 6,500 Israelis who have not renewed their gun licenses. 

“It is likely that these guns were stolen and they’re afraid to report it or they were sold illegally,” Amit told The Media Line. “We want to know how many people have done this. They must report it but there won’t be any criminal proceedings against them.”

In the first week of the campaign which began earlier this month, 200 Israelis came forward. Since then, there have been dozens more, although complete statistics are not yet available.

The issue gained prominence here earlier this month when a disgruntled customer opened fire in a bank in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, killing four people before turning the gun on himself. The gunman, Itamar Alon, was a former security guard who had won a commendation from the city for preventing a terrorist attack years ago.

His gun, Amit said, was licensed.

The shooting dominated the Israeli news for days, ironically pointing out how rare gun violence is in the country. Israeli officials say the difficult process required in order to obtain a gun weeds out potential misuse.

“Unlike in the US, in Israel there is no legal right to [own or carry] a gun,” Amit said. “Anyone who wants a gun needs to submit a request and explain why he needs that gun. He also has to undergo physical and psychological tests.”

Israel’s Ministry of Health is legally bound to report any changes in psychological health that could impact on a gun owner’s ability to use the weapon safely.

Anyone living in post-1967 areas, or on Israel’s northern and southern borders, is reasonably likely to obtain a license for a firearm, as well as people involved in businesses that include risk, like diamonds or money-transfer.

Most Israelis are familiar with guns from their mandatory army service. With the exception of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab citizens, all Israelis are drafted at the age of 18 and serve in the army – men for three years and women for two years. Even those in non-combat jobs complete at least three weeks of basic training that includes firing assault rifles.

Although violent crime involving gun use is considered rare in Israel, guns feature heavily in the high rate of suicide in both the civilian and military sectors.

The army does not like to release statistics, but after a blogger writing under a pseudonym wrote on the issue last year, the army revealed that 237 servicemen and women took their own lives over the past ten years, the vast majority using their army-issued weapons.

“There is a dangerous cultural combination of easy access to guns and the lack of awareness of depression and its prevalence in the 18 to 26 age group,” Sara Halevi, an adolescent cognitive behavioral therapist in Jerusalem told The Media Line. “That lends itself to a situation where suicide is unfortunately far too common.”

Halevi said she has noticed an increase in depression and stress-related illnesses in her practice, especially among 17-year-olds just before they enter the army.

“They feel unprepared for the responsibility that they are going to have put on them,” she said. “I’ve seen the incidence of depression go up significantly.”

There is still a stigma in Israel against seeking treatment, and many young Israelis worry that seeing a therapist could keep them out of important army jobs.

The army is also working to combat suicides of soldiers on active duty. In the past, most soldiers would bring their guns home with them when they came home for the weekend. Now, since the army began requiring that most soldiers keep their guns on their bases when on leave, suicides have decreased significantly.

Gun violence in America: Scandal!

Two years after his mother was shot and killed, Dallas Sonnier received a phone call from the police: His father had just been shot and killed.

Sonnier’s parents had divorced long before. That both were murdered was sheer coincidence — as if gun violence in America isn’t common enough to strike one family twice.

On July 12, 2010, Juan Gallegos, 62, the new husband of Sonnier’s mother, Becky J. Gallegos, 55, fired two bullets into her chest, then turned the gun on himself.

On July 11, 2012, police discovered the body of Sonnier’s father, Dr. Joseph Sonnier III, inside his Lubbock, Texas, home. Dr. Sonnier, 57, was the much-loved chief pathologist for the Covenant Health Systems. Days later, police arrested another doctor, Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon, the ex-lover of Dr. Sonnier’s girlfriend. He paid a hit man $9,000 in silver bars to break into Sonnier’s home and shoot him. Dixon provided the gun.

Dallas Sonnier, 32, is now an L.A.-based film producer. Tall, trim and soft-spoken, he’s a reminder that gun violence is ubiquitous and random. He told me his story over mimosas at a benefit for Women Against Gun Violence last Sunday afternoon, May 19. The story would likely be considered too far-fetched to be believed — if you didn’t know anything about America’s self-inflicted plague of gun violence.

“I’m just kind of coming out of it now,” Sonnier told me. “To see how I can make a difference.”

Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators, two things have happened: 1) The United States Senate voted against passing a bill that would, along with a handful of limited, thoughtful gun control measures, have instituted universal background checks for all gun purchases, and, 2) more than 4,266 more Americans have been killed by guns. Wait, a third thing has happened: Washington and the 24-hour media monster have become consumed with a series of scandals — Benghazi, the Associated Press, the IRS. Politicians and pundits are frothing to express their outrage as they pound the president against the ropes.

It’s certainly true that the press and Congress should investigate wrongdoings in the executive branch — the digging into reporters’ phone records is particularly worrisome.

But between the media’s desire for dramatic headlines — Scandal! — and partisan hacks looking, since 2008, for any and every reason to take down this president, what happens is those stories become the only story. The more difficult problems, the less black-and-white issues — in other words, the Things This Country Really Needs — get shoved aside.  

So immigration, sequestration, health care, jobs, Syria and, yes, gun control, all fell off the agenda.

To me, that’s the outrage.

At the Women Against Gun Violence event, I just got angrier.

Patricia Maisch and Daniel Hernandez Jr., two survivors of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that claimed six lives and badly wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, spoke about how 16 seconds damaged the lives not just of the victims, but of their friends and loved ones.

“Every shooting has a ripple effect,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez was the last person to see 9-year-old Christina Green alive that day.  That turned him into an activist.

“I’m not anti-gun,” he said, “I’m pro-common sense.”

The problem, of course, is that common sense is often trumped by passion and extremism, which is what fuels the minority of Americans who opposed the Senate background checks bill. The leadership of the National Rifle Association and its hard-core zombie army can still turn senators into hand puppets.

But the diversity of both the honorees and audience at Sunday’s event indicate, perhaps, that the tide has turned. The honorees ranged from Hernandez and Maisch to Ralphs Grocery Co., which funds a gun-buyback program; to Juliet Leftwich, an attorney who left a lucrative law practice to work for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; to my own parents, Sari and Aaron Eshman. My parents, thank God, haven’t been touched by gun violence, but, like the 90 percent of Americans who supported the bill the Senate voted against, they’ve had enough, they’re mad as hell and have become active in the cause. 

The audience was just as diverse: LAPD officers in uniform, South L.A. activists, Westside philanthropists and that film producer from Texas. If violence ripples outward like the rings of water when a pebble is thrown in, so does outrage.

Would such legislation have prevented the murders of Sonnier’s parents? Probably.

Sonnier told me that his mother’s husband had entered a paranoid tailspin in the year before the murder. Police found 100 guns on his property. He had purchased five to 10 each month in the year before he used one to kill Sonnier’s mother.

Common-sense federal legislation could limit the number of guns a single person could buy in a year, or tip off authorities when so many purchases are made. Common-sense legislation would require background checks on purchases made at gun shows or between private parties — something federal law doesn’t require today. The senators who stand in the way need to hear from you, today.

Washington is so caught up in scandal hunting, it has dropped the ball on these issues. To my mind, that’s the biggest scandal of them all.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

The speech President Obama should have given after the Connecticut school shooting

When news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School first broke, President Barack Obama stood before the nation, felt our grief and shed a tear.

It was a beautiful, touching moment — and I resented it.

I’m all for grown men crying. I’m all for presidents, in times of unexpected, shocking national tragedy, serving as a kind of pastor-in-chief, expressing our pain through their words.  

But the Sandy Hook massacre was neither shocking nor unexpected. Gunmen shooting at innocent children? Seen it — several times this year, actually. Deranged white male with access to an arsenal? As common as snowflakes. SWAT teams leading children out of schools? Grief-stricken parents arriving at the scene? Agonizing, senseless funerals? Teddy bears piled up along chain link fences? Check, check, check.

I’m not blasé — I’m angry. And Obama’s tears were exactly what I didn’t need. For comfort, I have friends and family. When I want pastoral care, I’ll see my rabbi — hey, she’s also family. What I want from my president is this: action.

So I sat down and typed out the speech I wish the president had given that afternoon, while the wounds were fresh and the nation looked to him for direction. Would the pundits have cried, “Too soon!” and accused him of politicizing the massacre? Probably, but so what? The right speech — the one I wrote — goes beyond partisan politics. 

This is the speech Obama should have given in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. Dry-eyed and tear-free:

My Fellow Americans:

“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. … But while we will shed tears with you, and lead this nation in mourning — again — my duty as your president does not stop there.

“My sworn duty is to protect and defend American lives, and in the wake of yet another shooting tragedy, that is what I intend to do.

I stand before you today, and face the grief-stricken parents of Newtown, and the traumatized children who survived the killer’s rampage, and I make this vow to you: I will do everything in my power as president to stop gun violence in America.

“What does this mean?

It means attacking the problem through our laws, our courts, our social services and our media.

“Make no mistake, this is a deep, festering problem that generations of politicians — including myself — have preferred not to confront head-on. There is no one simple solution. Our approach will be all encompassing and thorough. And our goal is clear: the end to gun violence in America.


“First, we will change the laws. We will enact smart and effective legislation that targets the most dangerous guns and keeps all guns out of the hands of the people most likely to use them to commit crimes. These laws will vastly improve criminal background checks to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns. We will push for a law that requires these checks for all gun sales. Right now, background checks only apply to sales by licensed gun dealers, who only account for 60 percent of all gun sales. That means 40 percent of all gun sales — via private parties and gun shows, for example — take place with no background check. 

“There are over 200 million guns in this country today. The Second Amendment protects the lawful ownership and use of firearms, and that is a constitutional right we hold dear. The vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens. The goal of our legislation is not to reduce the safe, legal ownership of guns, but gun violence.

“Second, we will ensure that in every court throughout this land, those who commit violent crimes with guns, as well as those whose guns are used through negligence to commit a crime, will face maximum, mandatory penalties.


“Third, we will increase our support for intervention programs targeting the mentally ill, domestic abusers, gangs and other underlying causes of gun violence. In cases where there is inadequate funding or oversight, we will immediately fix it. Since too many of these mass shootings involve long-simmering hostilities that burst out into mayhem, we will educate communities to identify the risk factors and create swift intervention procedures before violence erupts. To focus solely on guns as the problem will not solve our problem: America is not the only country with high rates of gun ownership. Switzerland and Israel have a high percentage of gun ownership but low or negligible amounts of gun-related homicide.

“Finally, we will focus on the media. We will use all forms of media to educate our young people away from violence, to stop its relentless glorification, and to teach ways to recognize and thwart violent behavior. While we hold the First Amendment and right to free expression as sacrosanct, we must strive to use the power of the media to solve, and not exacerbate, one of our country’s gravest problems.

“My fellow Americans, as a parent, I mourn with you today. But as your president, I cannot stand idly by while the blood of my countrymen is wantonly shed.

“There are 35 victims each day in this country from gun violence. About 86,000 people are either killed or wounded by firearms each year, of which 12,612 people die. That means that 10 days after this tragic day, guns will have killed another 350 people.

“I stand before you as a parent and shed tears. I stand before you as president and say: ‘Enough!’ ”

Rob Eshman is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Tribe Media Corp. Follow him on Twitter @foodaism.  If you approve of this message, please forward to

For the Children

“What do we want?” asked the speaker.
“Common sense gun laws!” came the response.
“When do we want them?”
“NOW!” roared the crowd.
Combining the high spirits of a pep rally with the solemnity of a memorial service, some 2,500 people massedSunday morning in front of the Federal Building in Westwood in support of the Million Mom March.The crowd ranged from babes in arms to 99-year-old Blanche W. Bettington, who hoisted a sign proclaiming “87 years of Activism.” Sharon Davis, wife of Gov. Gray Davis, expressed one of the rally themes, saying, “It is easier to childproof a gun than to bulletproof a child.” Actor Rob Reiner, reading a letter from U.S.Senator Barbara Boxer, hailed the moms marching here and across the country as “the founding mothers of a new America.”

The event, organized by Women Against Gun Violence, drew strong support by synagogues and Jewish organizations from theWestside and the San Fernando Valley. Hoisting banners were delegations from The Jewish Federation, ProgressiveJewish Alliance, Temple Emanuel, Temple Isaiah, Temple Ahavat Shalom and others.In a solemn ceremony, city, county and state public officials took turns reading the names of 143 children and teenagers who were killed by guns last year in Los Angeles County. As each name was read,youngsters placed a red or white carnation in a large, heart-shaped wreath.The idea for the march in Washington and across the nation grew out of the shooting spree last Augustat the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, in which three children and two others were wounded.Their families, and other JCC members, participated in the main march in Washington, together with California’s two Jewish women senators, Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.Across the street on Wilshire Boulevard, some 650 opponents of gun control held a counterdemonstration under the banner of the Second Amendment Sisters. According to the Los Angeles Times, the effort was coordinated by the local chapter of the National Rifle Association.

There was no contact between the opposing sides, separated by police cordons, but some Million Mom participants expressed resentment at SAS signs trying to link their cause to the Holocaust.One sign showed a large Star of David with the words, “Never Again”; another proclaimed, “Nazis Had Gun Control.”

A second local Million Mom March, billed as the Southern California regional march, was held in downtown Los Angeles, near historic Olvera Street, and drew some 5,000 supporters.Originally, only one Los Angeles march had been planned. It split into two, with the Westside event organized mainly by Jewish women and the downtown one primarily by Latina and other minority women. Resentment was voiced by some leaders of the downtown march at what they viewed as the “elitist” Westside organizers and their separate event. However, groups of Westsideand San Fernando Valley women joined the afternoon downtown march, while some downtown marchers participatedin the morning Westside event. Other California Million Mom Marches were held in San Diego, Oakland, Sacramento and Watsonville in Santa Cruz County.

Opposing Gun Violence

On Mother’s Day, May 14, they’ll be rallying in Washington, Los Angeles and 38 other cities across the nation to demand concrete action against the gun violence that scars the face of America like a festering wound.

In the ranks of the Million Mom March will be mothers, “honorary” mothers, husbands, and their parents and children.

The families whose children were in the line of fire during the horrifying shooting spree last year at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) will be in the vanguard of the march.

It was this attack by a lone gunman on Aug. 10 that shook the nation, triggered the concept of the Million Mom March, and has mobilized thousands of hitherto indifferent or half-hearted citizens.

“I’m going to Washington because I have to do it, I need to do it,” says Donna Finkelstein, who will be accompanied by her 17-year-old daughter Mindy, one of five wounded in the JCC attack, a second daughter, and her husband David.