Yishai backs away from pledge to ease firearms restrictions

Interior minister says he does not have authority to change current settler gun law situation.

Eli Yishai (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Eli Yishai
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Less then two weeks after he promised to relax weapons restrictions for West Bank settlers, Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) backtracked Tuesday, saying that while he called for relaxed conditions, he did not have the authority to change the current situation.
Settlers have complained for months that police have stripped weapons permits from a number of West Bank residents, but the complaints came to a head after a shooting attack that killed four Israelis two weeks ago, in which one of the victims was embroiled in a legal battle to regain his weapons permit.
Yishai said that he had referred the problem to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich (Israel Beiteinu) because, according to Yishai, the law does not allow the interior minister to change the criteria for licensing would-be gun owners. Despite Yishai’s claims that he was not the correct address for loosening the restrictions, both officials in the Public Security Ministry and settlers argued that Yishai did, in fact, have the authority to change the process.
“The murder of the four Bet Hagai residents was a traumatic event, but my hands are tied,” Yishai told members of the Knesset Interior Committee. “I am unable to change the law – the interior minister has no authority to award licenses. I turn to you, members of Knesset, to change the laws or the guidelines, and only then will it be possible to facilitate residents of Judea and Samaria to hold weapons to defend their lives.”
Yishai said that the interior minister “has no authority to give a weapons license without police approval.”
But that statement seemingly contradicted the announcement that he issued two weeks ago, in which he requested that Populations Registry head Amnon Ben-Ami act to relax conditions, including allowing settlers to acquire weapons without police approval, relying instead on professional opinions from the Interior Ministry, the Population Registry and the Immigration Authority.
“I instructed [Ben-Ami] to immediately relax the registration of weapons to residents of Judea and Samaria,” Yishai said at the time. “Professionals in the Populations Authority exhaustively check gun permit requests, and we are obligated to help residents there to maintain their basic right to protect their lives.
“We apparently will need to be prepared for a complex security period. Security forces, together with civilians who will be certified and permitted to do, so will constitute a deterrent against the battalions of murderers whose entire intent is to kill Jews,” he said.
Settlers’ advocates, including attorney Yitzhak Bam of the Forum for the Land of Israel, said that Yishai was intentionally washing his hands of the issue. According to the Firearms Law, which dates back to the earliest days of the state, the police are legally required to issue a recommendation regarding each candidate’s suitability to carry a firearm, but it is the Interior Ministry’s Firearms Office that is the ultimate authority on whether or not a specific candidate may be licensed.
Bam represented the Bet Hagai resident, Yitzhak Imes, in his unfinished appeal to regain the weapons permit that he had held for years before it was rescinded in November 2009.
“The police have refused to explain why Imes, who had no open files against him or criminal convictions, and whose license had been renewed six months earlier, had his license rescinded allegedly due to files against him that had been closed without indictment years ago,” complained Bam.
Bam argued that “the police are acting in an arbitrary manner,” and said that they were instructed to do so by attorney Shai Nitzan, the head of the Special Task Force for Law Enforcement in Judea and Samaria.
“If Nitzan wants to clean himself of Imes’s blood, he must publish his taskforce’s protocols and prove that they did not deal with the subject of gun permits.”
Interior Committee Chairman MK David Azoulai (Shas) suggested that the Interior Ministry should hold hearings for West Bank Jewish residents facing possible license suspensions before, and not after, their licenses are suspended. The committee, in its official conclusions, echoed calls to streamline, relax and better coordinate the weapons licensing procedure for settlers.