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First: Generally speaking, Israelis do not like gun sports, especially hunting. Just like their fellow Jews around the world, Israelis feel that all life is precious, and even if most are happy to wear leather goods or to eat meat, the idea of killing creatures for fun simply crosses an unspoken line of cruelty. Judaism always taught us to avoid causing too much pain to animals even when slaughtering them — so how can killing be a part of leisure?
A second, perhaps corollary point is that Israelis do not “collect” guns. I have probably lived among the most gun-friendly parts of Israeli society — I’m referring to some pretty die-hard roughneck West Bank settler types. Even during the early Oslo years, when they imagined a massive conflagration between themselves and the Palestinians about to engulf them, and accumulated weapons in preparation for such a day — even then they never described themselves as “collectors” of firearms.
But the most important conceptual difference — and this gets to the heart of the matter — is that Israelis do not believe they have a “right” to bear arms. Israel has no Second Amendment, nor would it ever dream of introducing one.
Part of this is, of course, historical: While America was created through the federation of sovereign states, which, in turn, were built on a loose confederation of individualistic pioneering communities, Israel started out as a tiny besieged state in desperate need of centralized mobilization to keep everyone alive, where government was first of all the protector of the citizens.
But alongside the history, there is a deeper reason that Israelis don’t believe in a right to bear arms. Guns are not seen by Israelis as a good thing. At best they are a necessary work tool. Seeing an armed soldier walking around in Tel Aviv is neither more alarming nor more inspiring than seeing a repairman with a hammer in his belt.
More often, however, guns signal a societal imperfection, a failure in the national enterprise that necessitates the security and deterrence that come with guns. There is nothing good, in the Israeli mindset, about having to wear our prowess — and our implicit vulnerability — on our sleeves.
The settlement I lived in had no security fence around it. When I asked why, I was told that a fence signals insecurity and invites attacks: “Better to keep the terrorists wondering how far out we can see them.” It’s true for the flaunting of firearms, as well. Even at their most muscularly militant, Israelis have never celebrated their guns the way Americans do.
David Hazony is the editor of The Tower Magazine and a contributing editor at the Forward