I Never Got Used To the Guns in Israel


soldier with gun at the Mount of Olives

Armed soldier on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

I never got used to the guns.  The one image in Israel that continued to startle me throughout my time there was the sight of so many people carrying weapons. Whether walking through the shopping district of old Jerusalem, standing on the Mount of Olives or attending a rock concert on the waterfront in Tiberius I was sure to see people armed with large guns. In a crowded restaurant where we ate lunch one day the only seat left for me was at a table with ten young people who each had a gun propped up beside them.  “Could you please move your gun?” I had to ask one man so I could slide into the vacant seat.

armed field trip guard golan heights

Armed school field trip guide in the Golan Heights

 One of my first days in Israel, my high school students and I hiked up to a waterfall in the Golan Heights. Just ahead of us was a group of Israeli schoolchildren. Two men and two women each carrying an M16 rifle walked with the Israeli kids flanking them in front, at the back and on the sides.  I asked our guide about this and he said perhaps the children’s teachers were army reserve members. If so they would be encouraged to carry guns even when they were off duty. Our guide also suggested the armed men and women might be special officers hired by the school to guard the children on their field trip.  The school was a private religious institution and the Golan Heights has been an area of conflict in the past. The school probably has a policy of hiring armed security officers for all excursions. I did a little research and learned that in 1974 three Palestinian gunmen attacked a group of Israeli school students and killed sixteen teenagers. Since then Israeli teachers have been allowed to carry guns in order to protect their students.

armed soldiers at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem May 21, 2010

Soldiers at Wailing Wall

I saw the largest number of armed officers at the Wailing Wall. We happened to visit this world-famous landmark on May 21st which is a holiday called Jerusalem Day. It celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem after a battle during the six-day war in 1967.  Perhaps worried that the Wailing Wall, traditionally swarming with visitors on Jerusalem Day, might make a good target for terrorist actions, the Israeli military was out in full force. Armed guards searched our bags before we approached the wall and we had to walk through a metal detector. Cadres of officers with rifles were posted at various positions in the courtyard approaching the Wailing Wall. So much weaponry seemed sadly out-of-place at a sacred spot where people gather from around the world to pray.     

armed guard asleep in jerusalem

Armed guard having a nap

An article in the London Times titled Guns: The Must-Have Israel Accessory says there is a “familiarity with guns in Israel that is rare” in most democratic countries. Since Israeli young people must serve a term in the military after high school, virtually all adults in the country have been trained to handle weapons. Apparently, gun-carrying citizens have been credited with saving the lives of Israelis under attack on numerous occasions. This has led people to believe only an armed Israeli citizenry can effectively defend itself against Palestinian terrorism.

weapons check in museum in Jerusalem

Weapons check-in at Jerusalem museum

My first few days in Israel I took photographs of all the people I saw with guns because it was so startling to me. I soon realized the sight was commonplace and I couldn’t possibly take pictures of everyone I saw with guns.  One tourist who visited Israel says on his blog that seeing so many people carrying guns in Israel made him feel safe.  I didn’t feel that way. I found it frightening.

You may also want to read……….

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Gender Inequality at the Wailing Wall



Filed under Art, History, Holidays, israel, Politics, Religion, Travel

13 responses to “I Never Got Used To the Guns in Israel

  1. Kayla

    I was in Israel for a stint last summer, and I saw a group of young soldiers at the Dead sea, wearing swim wear and holding guns too. It’s a sight that is quite different than North America, that’s for sure.


  2. JC

    It’s unfortunate they have to always be on guard in their day-to-day lives. That’s the sad thing. Try not to project your American ideals too much on your experience there though. We have things like relative peace and freedom that most can only dream of.

    Also, your uneasiness around guns was probably amplified by lack of exposure to or experience with them (just a guess – I, I course, don’t know you from an Olympic shooter). Try this: take a gun safety course from a credible instructor at a respected range in your area. Learn about the action and safety mechanisms and about the rules of firearms. Go to a range and practice firing until you gain a respect for the power of a firearm and a knowledge of how to safely control and operate one. Bet if you would try that out, you would have a lot less fear and uneasiness around them. It would be replaced be knowledge and awareness.


  3. I would feel safer in a room fulled of armed men then a room without armed men to not have guns is leaving you defencesless


    • Dear Chris,
      Thanks for you opinion but I am a Christian and I believe that Jesus taught us to be peacemakers. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, he said. The Bible is very clear “Thou shalt not kill.” I am a pacifist Anabaptist and my ancestors were killed because they refused to go to war because they believed the Bible teaches us it is wrong to kill anyone for any reason. I would be betraying their sacrifice if I carried arms. I respect the fact that you might have a different opinon.
      God bless!


      • …he that has no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. Luke 22:36
        A live missionary is better than a martyr. The sword was to defend against wild beasts and bandits, not as so many accuse to force conversion. There is a huge difference between murder and kill. Defending lives by killing a murderer should be considered civic duty. It is an awesome and sobering responsibility.


      • Jon

        Is that why Jesus had no problem with peter carrying a weapon?

        Trying to claim your Christian as an excuse to disarm people is pretty pathetic.


  4. I am a Christian as well, and the Bible does not say “thou shalt not kill” – properly translated, it states “thou shalt not murder.” You are entitled to – and welcome to – your opinions, but please do not judge others who know differently. You may be representative of all Anabaptists but you aren’t representative of all Christians.


    • I am not judging anyone, just stating what I believe. I try to be a representative for Jesus Christ in my life but I know that I often fall far short. Just curious, but when is killing not murder?


      • Did God not kill an animal to clothe Adam and Eve? Didn’t God demand a blood sacrifice to attone for sins? Was God a homocidal maniac demanding all people in Canaan to be executed? Was Noah’s flood murder? I do appreciate that violence is terrible, but we live in a broken world filled with evil. I would condemn anyone who would sit idly by and let evil kill their own wife and child.


  5. Judy Hauenstein

    Baptism brings the Holy Spirit to us thru water and the Word. Do not understand why Anabaptists think THEY must do something to bring salvation when Jesus Christ did it all for us on the cross. It is a free gift of grace and is there for all of us. I felt admiration for the people of Israel who were carrying guns. To protect the innocent is a calling we should all be willing to do.


  6. Depending on circumstances involved with the killing of a human being, even the civil duty to protect self or others can be mind boggling. But to idly stand by and watch evil people do bad things to the more vulnerable people in our society is not the answer to peace. When you know in your heart that you must kill to stop evil, and you have exhausted your resources to avoid killing, what must you do? There is only one answer.


    • Jose Diaz

      The degenerates on the IDF kill Palestinian children every week. Shouldn’t the Palestinian parents carry their own firearms to counteract the Zionist bestiality (EVIL)?


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