update deskIsrael at War

Religious women in Israeli territories take up arms

"I felt that you couldn't rely on the army. My husband was conscripted, and I needed a tool to save my children," said Esther Sultan from Beit El.

A Jewish resident of Judea and Samaria practices shooting a gun, Sept. 21, 2011. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.
A Jewish resident of Judea and Samaria practices shooting a gun, Sept. 21, 2011. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.

Religious women living on the frontlines in Judea and Samaria are taking up arms to defend their homes, particularly after the Oct. 7 massacre.

Srugim, a news site catering to the religious Zionist community, reported on Sunday that women from the disputed territories have drawn conclusions from Hamas’s mass slaughter in the northwestern Negev.

“I felt that you couldn’t rely on the army—no one, in fact. My husband was conscripted, and I needed a tool to save my children,” Esther Sultan, who lives in Beit El, a Jewish town north of Ramallah, told the news site.

“It’s only a matter of time before they come, and it won’t surprise me. I’ll do everything not to be slaughtered in bed,” she said.

Eleanor Rahamim, from Tekoa, a Jewish community southeast of Bethlehem, said, “After Oct. 7, I had panic attacks. My husband, a security guard, went to work, and I found myself on the frontline. I closed the blinds and thought how do I protect my house?

“After a few days of anxiety, I realized that there was no place to crawl into. And from a place of playing the victim, I decided to become a fighter, like women from our history.”

Rahamim had to first overcome her discomfort with firearms.

“At the range, I was really shaking, I couldn’t control the shooting. It was really difficult. … The experience of shooting is scary at first, but I told myself to imagine the terrorist who killed my cousin in front of me and shooting. It took me a while to calm down from the tremors but today I have a different feeling. I know what to do. I’m not fragile. I protect the people of Israel.”

Women practice firing weapons at the Jewish community of Pnei Kedem, south of Bethlehem, on Sept. 21, 2011. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.

‘Its a mental relief that we have a tool’

Oshrat Gispan, who is also from Tekoa, took up a firearm 10 years ago. She helps out the new shooters, some of whom have a hard time.

“They are young, on the verge of crying. It’s really not easy but as soon as there is support and reinforcement they get used to it. They control the tool, and it doesn’t control them.”

She’s part of a group of women that conducts advanced training. “We train to draw quickly, disassemble the weapon, shoot from inside a house, from a moving vehicle, from a window, driving in slalom, bypassing large stones, all so I won’t be responding to an incident for the first time.

“I enjoy the ranges. It works my nerves out. It’s a mental relief that we have a tool. I’m usually the only woman at the range, and the treatment is respectful,” Gispan said.

She stressed that a gun “is a life-saving tool. Every time you come to shoot, say [to yourself], ‘It is in the name of God, for my home and family.”

The Oct. 7 massacre has awakened a once indifferent public to the need to take up arms. Demand was such that a Knesset command center was set up to handle the flood of applications.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a national address in October, “We’re encouraging citizens, and helping citizens, to arm themselves with personal weapons for defense.”

On Oct. 16, the Knesset National Security Committee approved regulations expanding the criteria for obtaining a gun license.

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