Knesset passes law allowing police to search for illegal weapons with no warrant

Temporary legislation will go into effect for a year, is meant to help authorities fight violent crime, particularly in Arab communities

A machine gun and other illegal weapons sezied in police raids for arms in the Arab community, November 9, 2021. (Israel Police)
A machine gun and other illegal weapons sezied in police raids for arms in the Arab community, November 9, 2021. (Israel Police)

Legislation that will allow police to search for illegal weapons without a warrant was approved Tuesday night in a final vote in the Knesset plenum, passing 20-6 with support from both coalition and opposition lawmakers.

The temporary law will go into effect for 12 months and is meant to equip police with tools to crack down on illegal weapons trafficking in a bid to tackle rising violent crime, particularly in Arab communities.

The legislation also raises the severity of punishments for those caught with illegal weapons, allowing fines as well as up to 10 years of imprisonment.

A similar bill to increase penalties for illegal weapons possession and purchase passed a first reading last year, under the previous government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.

That bill too intended to help fight crime in Arab communities, where illegal weapons are prevalent, and which have seen a surge in violence in recent years, driven mainly by organized crime. Arab leaders and community members blame police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars and violence against women.

The communities have also suffered from decades of neglect by the state, with many suffering from weak infrastructure and poor public services. Many members of Arab communities live below the poverty line.

According to a 2020 Knesset report, some 400,000 illegal firearms are circulating in Israel, the vast majority in these communities.

The new legislation borrows from the 2022 bill, detailing provisions that extend jail time for offenses involving a weapon containing substantial parts from a conventional weapon. It also created seizure provisions for offenses that include manufacturing and trafficking illegal weapons.

The new legislation, submitted by MK Yitzhak Kroizer from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party and backed by Yisrael Beiteinu in the opposition, will help “reduce the number of illegal weapons used by criminal organizations… by providing tools to the Israel Police and other law enforcement authorities,” according to the text of the proposal cited by Haaretz.

It will allow warrantless searches of any residence or establishment under reasonable suspicion of finding a weapon or weapon parts in cases where a court order cannot immediately be obtained, and under reasonable suspicion that a serious crime has been committed and security camera footage could be recovered, for example.

The warrantless searches can be carried out only after receiving the approval of an officer in the rank of superintendent or higher, according to the law.

During the 12 months the law is in effect, law enforcement agencies will report to the Knesset’s National Security Committee and the Attorney General’s Office three times over the year on their use of the operational tools, including the number of warrantless searches carried out and the suspected offenses under which authorization was given, the number of indictments in which the warrantless search was authorized, as well as the number of weapons seized.

In late 2021, police carried out what they said was the largest weapons bust in Israel’s history, seizing arms and arresting dozens of gunrunners.

According to the Abraham Initiatives non-profit, which tracks violent crime in Arab communities, 39 Arabs have been killed in suspected homicides this year, and 116 were killed last year.

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