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Le Monde
Le Monde
18 Nov 2023

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Israeli municipal militias aspire to 'be ready for anything'

By  (Kfar Saba (Israel), special correspondent)
Published today at 11:00 am (Paris)

Time to 5 min. Lire en français

It looks like a secret base, its entrance hidden somewhere in an anonymous street. There are thick concrete walls painted an immaculate white, large meeting rooms with giant screens, and desks full of computers. This is the crisis center built by the municipality of Kfar Saba, a prosperous city north of Tel Aviv that ranks among Israel's 20 most populous. Opened during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was designed to cope with every kind of disaster, from earthquakes to missile salvos. It's now the city's hub for responding to the new reality that Israel has been experiencing since the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7.

"What happened to us is very serious. Israel will take a long time to recover. The state has not been tough enough in recent years. Lesson number one is that, in the event of an attack, the first response comes from the citizens' rapid reaction militias. And if they're not strong enough, everything collapses," said the mayor of Kfar Saba, Rafi Saar, on Tuesday, November 7. These self-defense units, called kitot konenut in Hebrew, date back to the early days of Zionism, when Jewish communities in Palestine protected themselves. Since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the establishment of an army with centralized command, they have gradually become obsolete, except in the occupied West Bank. The few remaining units in the kibbutz areas close to Gaza were for the most part wiped out by Hamas's offensive, except for a few, such as in Nir Am, where a dozen volunteers stood up to the attackers.

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Images Le

So when, after the attack, some 1,600 people turned up to defend Kfar Saba, the mayor didn't hesitate. He decided to create a rapid response militia, coordinated from the crisis center. It's the first in the history of the town, which was hit hard by the waves of suicide bombings during the second Intifada (2000-2005). The city is located just across the road from Qalqiliya, a West Bank community encircled by the separation barrier, whose economy has collapsed. "People want to regain a sense of security. We have to be prepared for anything, from a bombing to a massive attack," said Saar.

'People are reassured to see us'

Some 1,200 volunteers were chosen, including 400 equipped with personal weapons, for a population of 115,000. The mayor entrusted Niv Granot, head of volunteers in the municipality's security department, with the task of setting up an effective system: "The idea is to provide an initial response and buy time, while waiting for professional forces to arrive. We have teams in every neighborhood. Each one has a mission. Each member of the unit has an app on his or her phone to mobilize when something happens."

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