Haboleshet Spy Shop on Ibn Gavirol Street in the heart of Tel Aviv is usually a quiet place. The store sells spy equipment such as surveillance cameras and voice recorders concealed in pens, as well as electric shockers, clubs and pepper spray.
But Thursday was not quiet at all, say co-owners Avi Wachsman and Eyal Daniel.
“We completely sold out of pepper spray, shockers and clubs,” Daniel told The Times of Israel. “We sold three weeks’ worth of inventory in a single day, about 100 items in total.”
Daniel said the customers were from all walks of life: men, women, teenagers, even children and elderly people. “They all said they’re here because of the unpleasant security situation we’re in.”
The last several days have seen a wave of stabbing attacks throughout Israel. Amid the ongoing wave of terror, Israelis are seizing on the means to protect themselves.
“You can tell that people are feeling stressed,” said Daniel. “They want a tool to defend themselves if they get attacked.”
On Israel Radio Friday morning, another shopkeeper reported selling out his entire stock of pepper sprayin the past two days. “It’s legal,” he said, “and people feel they need protection.”
On Wednesday evening, Josh Carr, an immigrant from South Africa and former commander at the Israel Defense Forces’ Krav Maga instructor’s school, posted the following message in the “Secret Tel Aviv” Facebook group, which caters to new immigrants and tourists:
“Dear friends, (in Israel) due to the current situation, I am offering a free self-defense course. The course will focus mainly on knife defense but will include basic fighting skills and how to react in an emergency situation. This course will not turn you into a superhero, however, it could save your life or the life of someone else.”
Carr has received over 1,000 responses — and counting. “It was overwhelming. I didn’t expect it,” he said.
At first, Carr was planning to teach a few people self-defense techniques in a park. But now that so many people are interested, he hopes to hold events in several cities, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and possibly Beersheba, where he will instruct as many people as he can.
“I want to give people a basic level of self-defense, to learn how to use your body as a weapon, and I want to teach a few techniques for knife defense,” he said.
Oren Mellul, who teaches a twice-weekly Krav Maga class in central Tel Aviv has also seen an upsurge in interest.
“In a normal week I usually have two new students. In the last ten days I’ve had 25-30 new people sign up,” he said.
On Friday morning, Mellul devoted his beginner’s class entirely to knife defense.
Too many people are looking at their cellphone when they’re out in public, warned Carr. “The first step towards being safer is to lift your eyes and look around, trying to size up the people around you, looking for people who might be a threat,” he said. “You do this by using your gut and common sense.”
From a coffee shop, Carr points to a middle-aged man with a mild expression standing on the street. “That guy doesn’t look threatening,” he observed. “But if he started fidgeting with his pocket and looking at you aggressively, then things might change.”
Carr said that attackers are looking for weak targets. If they have to choose between someone who is absorbed in their phone and someone who is aware of their surroundings, they will choose the former.
“Unfortunately, the situation in Israel is that a person can take a knife or anything sharp and go nuts in the mall, in the street. It’s a big threat. You don’t know who that person will be.”
But if you do find yourself being attacked with a knife, what do you do?
“If you see someone with a knife, run away as fast as you can,” said Carr. “However, if you’re on a bus or in a mall where you can’t run away, the best thing to do is try to grab or push the terrorist into a corner. Another technique is to grab the hand with the knife and try to control the hand.”
Carr said he has watched thousands of videos of crimes caught on camera and there were often people standing around watching or filming the incident.
“Those people could be preventing the attack. If they all ran at the person with the knife, some would get hurt, but much fewer and the guy would go down a lot quicker.”
Avi Schneider, who teaches martial arts courses in Beit Shemesh, agrees that the best defense is awareness of your surroundings.
“Don’t be on the phone while commuting or on train platforms. Stand with your back against a wall and not in the middle of platform,” he recommended. “Actually, stake out the crowd. Look at each person and size them up. Judge them as harshly as possible.”
It’s far better to see an attacker coming before they get there than to let them come too close, he added.
“If someone makes you uncomfortable, walk away, cross the street, miss the bus. Chances are you’re wrong about that person, but it’s better to be wrong than sorry.”
Another tip Schneider offered is to wear heavier clothing, which is getting easier now that the weather is getting cooler.
“A thick jacket is not effective against a gun attack but can make the difference between a light knife injury and a critical one,” he said. “Beyond that, it’s a good idea to take a self-defense course, although even to mentally not freeze up takes many lessons to drill into someone.”
Carr also said that awareness is key, not just for a knife attack, but also car rammings.
“If you do see a car coming towards you, try to put a barrier between yourself and the vehicle, like a telephone pole, tree or parked car,” he said.
“That’s your first level of protection. But if it’s too late — and this requires a high level of training, you should jump as high as you can in the air. If the car hits you in the air, you’ll still be injured but there is much less chance of dying.”
Carr also said that parents need to think about how to protect their kids as well as teach their kids how to react in an emergency situation, something he will teach in his training sessions.
“The important thing is not to stop living because of this, because then they’re [terrorists] winning,” he stressed. “But be careful and take your security seriously.”