Israelis in Samaria line up for guns amid fears war could expand

As war expands, Israelis living in Samaria desperately look to arm themselves, fearing further deterioration of security situation.

By Judith Segaloff, JNS

In Karnei Shomron, there were no sirens during the surreal Shemini Atzeret holiday in Samaria in spite of the quiet news spreading about armed infiltrations, thousands of rockets pelting the center of the country and people massacred by terrorists in the south.

The primarily religious community of Karnei Shomron was shaken with news being spread person-to-person as fathers of young children received orders from the army and grandmothers were called to childcare duty.

The synagogue was cleared by Home Front Command before the afternoon Mussaf prayers, as gatherings of more than ten people in places without a bomb shelter were prohibited. In streets usually filled with children on scooters and no moving cars, security vehicles were on constant patrol.

As members of the army and the reserves began to head north and south, armed residents who were not called up volunteered to patrol the streets and lead armed convoys along Route 55 to ensure drivers’ safety after sundown.

Watchful eyes of neighboring residents scanned the nearby village of Azzun, where even in “peaceful times” hostile terrorists throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at cars and buses.

On Tuesday, the local Maccabi health clinic was teeming with crowds scrambling for health applications for gun permits. It was tense but congenial as doctors scrambled to fill out forms.

“Is it war, or is it chofesh (vacation)?” one confused child asked his mother, who waited in yet another line at the town offices to validate residency to apply for a gun.

At the supermarket, the scene was chaotic, with people responding to the Home Front Command’s suggestion that residents pack a three-day supply of food and water in their safe rooms.

Like a pre-six-foot snow day in the United States, people were tossing cans of food and packages of crackers into their carts as the lines wrapped around the check-out counters.

But the gun line was even longer.

“Yesterday, we personally helped over 60 residents apply for guns,” explained one volunteer at the town hall.

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“We are a nation of cowboys,” she quipped. By noon on Tuesday, they had already helped another 30 and that didn’t include the hordes of people still working on their health forms at Maccabi, and those who scanned and filled out documents without help.

“We are in emergency times, so people are responding,” explained Igal Lahav, Mayor of Karnei Shomron, who heads a council of Samaria  mayors. “The idea is that people should take responsibility for the situation. People need to protect themselves, so we don’t have a situation like they had in the south. We encourage them to buy guns and are helping them with registration, but nobody needs to panic.”

Lahav, who said he doesn’t like to comment on security as a rule, added, “We are very secure and doing our best to buy more ammunition and guns for civilian patrols so we will hopefully be safer than they were down south.”

Since events began to unfold on Saturday, there were warnings of armed terrorist infiltrations in Ariel, Kedumim and Einav.

Using maps, videos and photos, the Azzun Telegram channels openly warn terrorists of the positions of the “settlers” and the army.

“Arrival of a military bulldozer for the occupation army around the northern entrance to the town of Azzun and a military force,” one message stated.

Things began heating up in Samaria well before the war started.

The week of the Sukkot holiday was a particularly difficult week with multiple buses and cars hit by rocks and explosives, as well as a shooting in Huwara.

The army was already on edge. The Huwara shooter chased a car being driven by a pregnant woman with a three-year old in tow. Fortunately, no one was harmed.

Now, with the infiltration news from the south, the fear is palpable.

Residents are told not to open doors at night, travel through the area in groups and report anyone that appears strange.

Most Arab workers are prohibited from entering the neighborhood.

Home construction has ground to a halt, garbage collection is curtailed, gardens are not being tended and the local Arabs that harvest nearby olive trees are not allowed near the settlement.

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Arab social media monitors Israeli media, reporting gleefully on war casualties and death and destruction, celebrating them as a “victory.”

The Azzun channels also disperse “to-the-minute” news from terrorist operations in Gaza, Jenin, Tulkarm and Shechem (Nablus), and warn Azzun residents to stay away from places where the “mujahideen” are present, while encouraging them to ignite rubber tires to obscure the vision of drone cameras and pour car oil on the streets to impede the movement of the “occupation forces.”

D’vora Brand, a local realtor who is the mother of five officers and commanders in the IDF, has lived in Samaria for 40 years.

On Saturday morning, when one of her sons saw the lack of equipment for the emergency security squad, which is comprised of volunteers who patrol the seven neighborhoods in Karnei Shomron, he took it upon himself to procure ceramic vests, helmets, body armor and night vision for the squad.

“Even in the most difficult days of the First and Second Intifadas, when we were shot at while driving, we have never felt the intensity of the current atmosphere,” explained Brand. “Today we are fighting for our homes and our land, just as they had to fight in 1948.”

“Since 1948, they didn’t have the audacity to pull off the kind of blatant ambush of so many neighborhoods,” she added. “It was a well-planned attack, fueled by extreme hate with no recognition of who is standing in front of them. Their actions are as atrocious as the Nazis.”

Brand, who has carried a gun since she applied on her way to giving birth to her second of nine children, took up a collection on JGive to help fund the efforts.

In the past, when the civilian patrol stood, the terrorists didn’t dare approach. The patrol is hoping that the volunteers will continue to deter potential infiltrators.

“They think we are cowboys,” explained Aryeh Zimet, who started a community patrol through a WhatsApp group before Rosh Hashana after a spate of cars were damaged by rocks. “They don’t know what we will do. Many of us are armed.”

With the increase in gun registrations, the number of armed volunteers in Karnei Shomron is set to surge, as the community steps forward to support the war efforts. One volunteer pointed out that you do not have to be armed to volunteer for sentry duty.

There are other tasks, including call centers or pairing up with someone else who is armed. People are mostly staying within the perimeter of the large village and few venture out.

“Many years ago, we even went into Azzun. We were friends,” recalled volunteer Shiran Versano, a waiflike girl with a big gun holstered at her waist and a 30-year resident of Karnei Shomron. “We would go shopping in Arab neighborhoods. My parents’ whole living room was purchased in Shechem.”

Now, of course, any Jewish presence in those areas is extremely dangerous.

Another volunteer, Dr. Yaakov Seligman, a plastic surgeon at Tel Hashomer Hospital, a resident of Karnei Shomron and an oleh from Florida, was frustrated.

He recalled his car being pelted by rocks and Molotov cocktails. In the beginning, he pulled over, got out of his car and tried to chase the terrorists away. When he called the police afterwards to report the incident, they minimized it.

“They asked me how I knew I had been hit with a rock,” he said, exasperated. “They even suggested maybe it was a meteor. Then they asked me where I was coming from and, finally, why I am living here.”

He eventually stopped calling the police and decided to join the civilian patrol.

Dror Madar, one of the first of the new volunteers, who grew up in Karnei Shomron and served in Gaza for a half year, said he is prepared for something to happen as he watches the fence. He said the infiltration and storming of the Gaza border fence was inexplicable.

“When anyone approached the Gaza fence when I served, they were met by helicopters and airplanes. Where were they this time?” he asked.

“We are prepared to take the first shot,” he said, brandishing a ceramic vest that he borrowed from a neighbor. “But we need more equipment, vests and helmets. We can’t win a gunfight with a pistol if the terrorist is better armed than we are.”