After terror attacks, officials set out to draft Haredi IDF veterans to civil guard

Plan aims to train thousands of ultra-Orthodox ex-soldiers, supply them with equipment for emergency response in areas with few licensed weapon holders; pilot planned for Jerusalem

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem walk alongside an Israeli soldier. June 6, 2008. (Lara Savage/Flash 90)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem walk alongside an Israeli soldier. June 6, 2008. (Lara Savage/Flash 90)

After a series of terror attacks in Israel earlier this year, several of them in ultra-Orthodox cities, officials have set out a plan to recruit Haredi ex-soldiers to the police’s civil guard.

The project, dubbed “Magen” (shield), was launched Monday in Jerusalem by the Netzah Yehuda Association, which helps ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the military, along with the Israel Police, the Public Security Ministry, and the Jerusalem municipality.

According to the association, the goal of the project is for police to train Haredi veterans, and have them be on standby in ultra-Orthodox cities and neighborhoods, in case of a terror attack.

In late March, a Palestinian gunman opened fire in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, killing five people. The terrorist was shot dead by police officers who were called to the scene, several minutes after he began his shooting spree. The fifth victim, police officer Amir Khoury, a Christian Arab from the northern city of Nof Hagalil, was killed in the gun battle.

Then in early May, two Palestinians hacked three people to death with axes, and seriously wounded three others, in the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad. The pair managed to flee the scene and were caught in a nearby forested area after a 60-hour manhunt.

“In the days after the terrorist attacks in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, it suddenly dawned on me. We, as a body that accompanies 16,000 army veterans that are ultra-Orthodox, can equip the cities with hundreds of volunteers that can be recruited to establish standby platoons that will provide a solution for heavily ultra-Orthodox areas, where there are almost no licensed gun holders,” Maj. (res.) Yossi Levy, CEO of the Netzah Yehuda Association, said at the launch.

Israeli police officers and medics are seen at the scene of a deadly terrorist attack in Bnei Brak, on March 29, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Haredi population of Israel overwhelmingly opposes performing mandatory military service, seeing it as a way for secular society to potentially draw away its members. Some extreme elements in the Haredi community have even protested violently against military conscription.

As a result, there are few ultra-Orthodox Israelis who carry firearms.

Last month, then-prime minister Naftali Bennet and law enforcement officials unveiled a new national guard police unit that would be activated in emergencies, citing lessons learned from ethnic unrest inside Israel amid a war with Gaza last year.

Under that plan, some 2,000 officers would keep equipment at home and be available for immediate action, in addition to thousands of additional volunteers and officers planned for the existing police civil guard and reserve force.

A preliminary pilot for Magen, “community standby units” in Jerusalem’s Haredi neighborhoods, would be established after ex-soldiers are trained by police and supplied with equipment, the association said.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion speaks in Jerusalem during the launch of the ‘Magen’ initiative, July 12, 2022. (Courtesy of the Netzah Yehuda Association)

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion hailed the plan, saying its “implementation will contribute to increasing the personal security of the city’s residents in the public space.”

The Netzah Yehuda Association said it hopes the initiative will attract other Haredi municipalities to join.

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