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Opposition mounts against formation of Israeli national guard under far-right minister

Israeli police stand guard near a security incident scene in Jerusalem's Old City. (Reuters)
Israeli police stand guard near a security incident scene in Jerusalem's Old City. (Reuters)
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05 Apr 2023 12:04:14 GMT9
05 Apr 2023 12:04:14 GMT9
  • Many Arabs fear Ben-Gvir will attract settlers and extreme right-wingers to his national guard

Mohammed Najib

RAMALLAH: Opposition was on Tuesday mounting against the Israeli government’s approval for the establishment of a national guard force under the supervision of the country’s controversial far-right security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Groups representing 1.7 million Arabs living in Israel, political opposition figures, and Israeli security services chiefs have all expressed concerns over the decision and the possibility of Ben-Gvir taking direct control of the armed force.

The move has come in the wake of violent clashes in mixed Jewish-Arab towns in May 2021.

On Jan. 23, Ben-Gvir proposed the setting up of a national guard to strengthen the Israeli police and border forces, modelled on Israel’s Border Police currently deployed in the West Bank under the supervision of the Israeli Army Command. He suggested the new force could be augmented by additional police and 10,000 combat veteran volunteers.

And in March, the minister proposed the national guard be separated from the IBP and Israeli police force and be subordinated to the Ministry of National Security.

Ben-Gvir had previously discussed the idea of a national guard with police chief Amir Cohen.

Strategic director of the Givat Habiba institution, and political analyst, Mohammed Darawsheh, from the town of Iksal near Nazareth, told Arab News that the establishment of a national guard was part of a far-right political plan to have a paramilitary force funded by the government and backed by the state that could act as a strike unit against Arabs and opponents of the right.

He said: “The majority of the members of this unit will be ideologically affiliated with the religious Zionist party, and this is the containment of what they call the hilltop youth from the settlers in the West Bank.”

The Israeli police has been struggling to attract new recruits and is currently short of more than 1,000 police officers and many Arabs fear Ben-Gvir will attract settlers and extreme right-wingers to his national guard.

Serin Mohammed Jabarin, a media activist, told Arab News that approval for the new force was part of a political deal between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir.

Israeli political analyst, Yoni Ben-Menachem, said that many security service and political leaders in Israel were concerned at the prospect of Ben-Gvir gaining direct control over an armed force and turning it into a militia.

A committee comprising of all the Israeli security agencies will reportedly decide the exact powers of the new national guard and submit its recommendations within 90 days.

Israeli police inspector general, Yaakov Shabtai, and chief of the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Herzi Halevy, are both believed to have misgivings about the formation of a national guard under Ben-Gvir’s control.

Jalal Bana, a political analyst from Kufur Yasif in Galilee, told Arab News that Arabs in Israel already distrusted the Israeli police and feared the establishment of national guard would further erode their citizen rights.

Yousef Jabarin, a law professor and former member of the Knesset, told Arab News that the real goal of forming a national guard was to suppress Arab society and any demonstrations.

He said: “We see serious dangers from establishing these militias.” He added that opponents would do “everything in our power” to prevent that from happening. “There will be a popular reaction if they are formed.”

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