On March 28, 2023, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the Fight against Unlawful Weapons Law (Legislative Amendment and Temporary Order), 5723-2023, with effect for a period of one year commencing on May 15, 2023.
The amendment law provides that its objective is “to reduce the number of illegal weapons used by crime organizations … by providing the Israel Police and other [law] enforcement agencies tools to deal with this phenomenon.”
Background to the Amendment Law
According to the explanatory notes of the draft amendment law, the law was designed to address the “wave of violence and criminality, especially in Arab society,” that has taken place in recent years. Further, “[t]his criminality is characterized, among other things, by the possession of illegal weapons, the collection of protection money and shooting in residential places [which] … has led to dozens of homicides.”
The Knesset Special Committee for the Elimination of Crime in Arab Society held hearings on the subject from March 24–27, 2020. Several plans on ways to handle the situation have also been previously issued by the leadership of Arab society as well as by a team of directors general of government ministries.
According to the nongovernmental Institute for National Security Studies,
[t]he background to the phenomenon of the pervasive violence is complex and grounded in many factors. At their base are serious societal challenges as well as neglect and an ongoing lack of governance on the part of the state. As a result, anarchy has emerged over the years, and the governmental vacuum has been filled by criminal elements that have gradually taken over broad areas of life. On every level, it is essential to create clear change through deep, broad, multidimensional, and long-term responses.
The amendment law intends to address the problem by providing law enforcement officers additional authority to engage in warrantless search and seizure, and by penalizing unlawful manufacturing, possession, and dealing in weapons and weapons parts.
The amendment law provides additional grounds for warrantless searches by police and military personnel (law enforcement officers), as appropriate, by amending certain provisions in the Criminal Procedure Ordinance (Arrest and Search) (New Version), 5729-1969, and the Military Justice Law, 5715-1955. It authorizes law enforcement officers to enter any home or location without a judicial warrant when they have a reasonable suspicion that in the house or at the location there is
- a weapon or a substantial part of a weapon that may be used as evidence for unlawful possession of or dealing in weapons, or
- documentation or a camera that may be used as evidence of unlawful possession, manufacturing, or dealing in weapons, or of shooting in a way that endangers people’s lives.
A warrantless search under these circumstances may be authorized if “failure to perform the search immediately would thwart the purpose of the search, and it is not possible to obtain a search warrant due to the need to perform the search immediately to prevent the concealment or impairment of the evidence.”
A warrantless search under these conditions requires the approval of an officer with the rank of police superintendent or higher, or a military police officer with the rank of captain or higher, as relevant. The approval must be documented in writing and include the reasons and the circumstances requiring the search to be conducted immediately and without a warrant. The amendment law requires the search to be documented in a manner prescribed by police or military police procedures as relevant.
An officer may seize an object that was discovered during the search but did not relate to the offense for which the warrantless search permit was given if there was a reasonable suspicion that the object has been or will be used in the commission of an offense. This type of seizure will similarly be permitted when there is a reasonable suspicion that the object could be used as evidence in a legal proceeding, or was given as a reward for or as a means for committing an offense.
The amendment law requires the minister of national security and the inspector general of the Israel Police, or the minister of defense and the chief military police officer, as appropriate, to report in writing to the Knesset National Security Committee and to the attorney general, respectively, on dates determined by law, on the number of warrantless search permits issued; the offenses for which they were granted; the number of searches in which a weapon, documentation, or a camera was found; the number of weapons seized; and the number of applications submitted to the court in connection with the disposition of seized weapons. The state attorney, or the chief military prosecutor, as appropriate, should similarly report in writing to the Knesset National Security Committee by April 1, 2024, on the number of indictments filed in cases in which a search was carried out under the amendment law.
The amendment law adds penalties for the unlawful possession, manufacturing, and dealing in weapons (weapon offenses) under the Penal law 5737-1977, by sanctioning such activities in regard to “a substantial part of a weapon” and a “nonsubstantial part of a weapon.” The amendment law defines the former as a part or an accessory that constitutes “a body, barrel, chill, assemblage or anvil of a weapon.”
In addition to imposing prison sentences on offenders, the amendment law authorizes a convicting court to order the forfeiture of any property that served or was intended to serve as a means to commit or facilitate the commission of a weapons offense, or as remuneration for it.
Ruth Levush, Law Library of Congress
May 4, 2023
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