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In Israeli Shops, Knives Get Harder To Find, Demand For Guns Goes Up

A Palestinian raises a knife during clashes with Israeli police in the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem on Oct. 9. After a series of Palestinian stabbing attacks, some Israeli stores have removed knives from their shelves.
Mahmoud Illean

The recent wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence has focused on two weapons. Knives, used by Palestinians in most attacks against Israelis. And guns, which the Israeli security forces, and some civilians, have used to shoot attackers or suspected attackers.

Israelis say stopping knife attacks is hard because the weapon is so easy to get and to hide.

Israeli police are publishing pictures of knives they say were weapons in recent attacks. They're kitchen knives. Things you could buy at a supermarket.

But one of Israel's major grocery chains, Rami Levy, has pulled all the knives, plus kitchen scissors and pizza cutters, from the aisles. They are now stored at the service desk. Customers now have to ask for them.

An Israeli fires his weapon at a shooting range near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev on Oct. 11. Gun store owners in Israel say sales have been rising in response to the recent violence.
Dan Balilty / AP
An Israeli fires his weapon at a shooting range near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev on Oct. 11. Gun store owners in Israel say sales have been rising in response to the recent violence.

Drori Levy, who works in the family business, says the reason is simple.

"We have a security guard at the door to prevent someone from getting in and attacking someone," he says. "So why would we keep what an attacker would use here on the shelf?"

The customer service desk has no set criteria for who could or could not buy a knife. Shopper Naomi Golan says taking knives off shelves might not make a real difference, but it's a nice gesture.

"I don't think that people will take a knife from here; I think they're coming with a knife on them," she says. "But people fear, so when don't see knives, it's OK."

More Demand For Guns

Other Israelis say there's only one answer to knife attacks. Guns.

While most Israeli men and women serve in the military after high school, owning a private gun is not the norm in Israel.

But Ronen Rabani, who runs a gun shop in Jerusalem, says business has been booming. Not just recently, he says, but since Palestinians from East Jerusalem killed five Israelis in an attack on a synagogue about this time last year.

Customer Hadi Kolani, who lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, is shopping for his first handgun.

"I feel more secure. I have a means for self-defense. It makes me more relaxed," he says.

To get a gun in Israel takes a few months and a lot of paperwork. There are age requirements and a doctor must certify the buyer's mental health. Everyone goes through training — this shop has classes and a practice range.

Still, Palestinian officials say Israeli police and civilians have been too quick to shoot and kill Arabs who are involved in stabbing attacks, as well as use live fire in clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians in the West Bank. The Palestinians point out that Jews carrying out some recent knife attacks have been arrested rather than shot.

The Cooking School Exception

In any case, it's illegal to carry a knife in Israel, and you can't get a permit.

With one exception. Cooking school. Every student at Israel's Institute of Culinary Arts gets a kit of equipment, says spokesman Ido Zarmi.

"The kit has at least seven different kinds of knives," he says. "It's a chef knife, it's a boning knife, it's a paring knife, it's a serrated knife, and a flexible filet knife."

And with this kit, each student gets a letter certifying she or he is carrying all these knives for a good reason. The letters have always been necessary, because bags get searched often in Israel. But it has taken on a new tone, Zarmi says.

"We have students that are Arab and we issue this letter for them as well," he says. "For me, and for us in school there is no difference between one person and another. But people actually ask me right now, 'How do you know you can give a letter like that to people who are Arab?' "

The lone Arab student in one of the school's recent classes posted a picture of his knives and his letter on Facebook.

"Yes," he wrote, "I'm certified to carry knives. Let's just hope they won't shoot first, ask question later."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.
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