Israel: Statement 'lacks decency' of calling attacks terror

UN criticizes Israeli plan to ease gun ownership requirements after terror attacks

International body’s rights chief Volker Turk: ‘The proliferation of firearms will lead to increased risks of killings and injuries of both Israelis and Palestinians’

A weapons' store in the West Bank's Gush Etzion settlement bloc, February 1, 2023. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
A weapons' store in the West Bank's Gush Etzion settlement bloc, February 1, 2023. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

UN rights chief Volker Turk on Friday called for an end to the “illogic of escalation” between Israel and the Palestinians amid a spike in deadly violence, criticizing plans to streamline and ease the requirements for Israelis to carry weapons.

Turk condemned Israel for measures that “can only lead to further violence and bloodshed,” following a surge in terror attacks and clashes that have drawn calls from the international community for calm and restraint.

“Rather than doubling down on failed approaches of violence and coercion… I urge everyone involved to step out of the illogic of escalation that has only ended in dead bodies, shattered lives and utter despair,” Turk said in a statement.

“Recent measures being taken by the government of Israel are only fueling further violations and abuses of human rights law,” he continued.

“We know from experience that the proliferation of firearms will lead to increased risks of killings and injuries of both Israelis and Palestinians,” Turk said.

The UN rights chief was referring to the announced overhaul of the National Security Ministry’s firearm licensing department following a series of terror attacks.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk in Maiquetia, Venezuela, January 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

The plan is aimed at streamlining and easing the process for civilians looking to carry a gun.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, responded to Turk, saying that the UN rights chief’s statement “does not even have the decency to describe the attacks last week for what they were, acts of Palestinian terrorism targeting the Jewish people.”

Critics within Israel, especially women’s rights activists, lament loosening gun ownership restrictions, citing the number of murders committed with firearms.

Additionally, most terror attacks occur in the West Bank, where civilians can already apply for a license — currently, some 13% of gun licenses are based on home or work location criteria.

Gun control in Israel is relatively strict, and weapons are generally only granted to those who can show a need for extra security in their line of work or daily life. Citizens in nearly all cases can only own one gun and 50 bullets at a given time.

The government announced the streamlining for gun licenses after a deadly terror attack in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood in which a Palestinian gunman killed seven. The terrorist was killed by police officers within five minutes of the first reports of gunfire as he fled the scene.

The following day, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and injured two Israelis in the Silwan neighborhood in an attack that was ended when one of the victims, an off-duty Israel Defense Forces soldier, returned fire.

The scene of a terror attack in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem, January 27, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who is spearheading the move to ease requirements, has himself been criticized for brandishing his firearm, most recently last year when he drew his weapon as he ducked behind a parked vehicle during clashes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, while calling on police to use live fire.

In 2021, Ben Gvir drew his weapon during an altercation with Arab security guards when he parked in a prohibited spot in Tel Aviv.

In his statement, Turk also urged “all those holding public office or other positions of authority — indeed everyone — to stop using language that incites hatred of ‘the other.'”

He added that other measures announced by Israel in response to the Jerusalem attack, including “punitive forced evictions and house demolitions” may amount to “collective punishment.”

Israel Police said Sunday that it had sealed off the home of the Neve Yaakov terrorist. Troops sealed the home of Alqam Khayri ahead of the demolition of the home in East Jerusalem’s A-Tur neighborhood.

Security forces seal the home of Alqam Khayri, who carried out a terror attack in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood of Jerusalem, January 29, 2023. (Screengrab/Israel Police)

Israel regularly demolishes the homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out deadly terror attacks as a matter of policy. The efficacy of the policy has been hotly debated even within the Israeli security establishment, while human rights activists denounce the practice as unjust collective punishment.

The IDF has pressed on with an anti-terror offensive to deal with a series of attacks that left 31 people in Israel dead in 2022, and seven more in the Neve Yaakov attack last weekend.

The IDF’s operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids. It also left 171 Palestinians dead in 2022, and another 36 since the beginning of the year, many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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