Distribution of 300 assault rifles to West Bank civilian security squads underway

Weapons delivered in coordination with IDF and National Security Ministry in wake of Hamas onslaught from Gaza and amid surge in settler violence against Palestinians

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Samaria Council head Yossi Dagan helps distribute assault rifles to civilian security squads in settlements in the northern West Bank, October 22, 2023. (Roi Hadi)
Samaria Council head Yossi Dagan helps distribute assault rifles to civilian security squads in settlements in the northern West Bank, October 22, 2023. (Roi Hadi)

The Samaria Regional Council is in the process of distributing 300 assault rifles to civilian security squads in settlements in the northern West Bank, in coordination with the National Security Ministry and the IDF.

Samaria Regional Council Head Yossi Dagan said he has raised “millions” of shekels from donors around the world to purchase the rifles.

Distribution began on Sunday, in coordination with the IDF, with some 200 rifles issued to civilian security team members in the Samaria region of the northern West Bank. The remaining 100 rifles will be distributed during the week.

A spokesperson for Dagan did not reply to questions regarding which settlements’ security squads will be receiving the assault rifles and whether they include illegal West Bank outposts.

“We are standing together with an iron fist, united and unified. We are doing our part in defending the settlements of Samaria, and are therefore partners in the victory of the State of Israel,” said Dagan.

“What happened will never happen again. We will defend Samaria, we will defend the State of Israel… We are standing up for our honor and the honor of the people of Israel,” he said, referring to the Hamas terror group’s October 7 invasion of southern Israel and the atrocities it perpetrated.

Thousands of Hamas terrorists breached the Gaza barrier fence in a shock onslaught and rampaged murderously through IDF posts and largely unprepared communities, killing, torturing and mutilating some 1,400 people, mostly civilians. They wounded thousands more, and abducted over 200 people to Gaza.

Palestinian gunmen attend the funeral of a man killed in an Israeli military raid in Nur Shams refugee camp, in the West Bank city of Tulkarem, October 20, 2023 (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The National Security Ministry, led by firebrand minister Itamar Ben Gvir, has put a heavy emphasis on arming civilian security squads in the wake of the events of October 7, and has itself purchased 10,000 assault rifles for such teams around the country.

Some civilian defense teams in the Gaza border region were crucial in thwarting and eliminating Hamas terrorists during the attack, helping to save many lives.

Since October 7, however, concerns have been raised by human rights organizations over severe settler violence and harassment of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.

According to the Palestinian Authority, six Palestinians have been shot and killed by settlers in the territory since the Hamas attack on southern Israel, and others wounded.

In total, at least 55 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli security forces, military arrest raids and attacks by settlers, according to the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry last week.

In one incident caught on video on October 13, a settler who had entered the outskirts of the village of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills armed with an assault rifle shot at point-blank range and badly wounded an unarmed Palestinian man who together with several other men was protesting the settler’s presence.

Civilians cannot purchase assault rifles. The weapon used in the October 13 incident was likely issued by the IDF to a civilian security team or belonged to an off-duty IDF soldier.

On Monday, the Samaria District Police said that its investigation into the incident was ongoing, despite the fact that it had video footage of the shooting, has questioned the shooter, and knows the identity of the man who was injured.

According to the Yesh Din human rights group, there have been some 100 incidents in which settlers have attacked Palestinians in 62 towns and villages around the West Bank.

The organization said that settlers have chased Palestinian shepherd communities off their land, set homes and vehicles on fire, uprooted trees, and destroyed property.

The IDF and police have also dramatically ramped up operations in the West Bank against Palestinian terror organizations, and have arrested some 860 suspects since the war broke out, 514 of whom are members of Hamas.

On Monday night 32 suspects, including 18 Hamas operatives, were arrested.

The Peace Now organization, which campaigns against the settlements and Israeli control of the West Bank, expressed concern over the distribution of assault rifles to the security teams, saying it amounted to the privatization of security in the region.

“It seems that within the Samaria Regional Council, there is an acknowledgment that the Israeli army can’t effectively secure both the country’s borders and the settlements deep within Palestinian territories,” the organization said.

“Instead of pursuing strategic solutions, such as defensible borders, there is a tendency to privatize security and increase the distribution of weapons. If the military can’t ensure security, it is clear that privatization is not a solution; it’s a potential recipe for disaster.”

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