Why I Feel Safer in Israel Than my Florida Hometown
Upon telling others about my plans to travel to Israel for the first time this summer, my excitement about exploring ancient Jerusalem ruins, diving into the Dead Sea, and indulging in creamy hummus is often overshadowed by a concerned question along the lines of “Is it safe there right now?”
As a disclaimer, I am not saying that these people are wrong. Summer 2023 may not seem like the ideal time to visit Israel, given the judicial reform protests, horrifying rocket attacks, and recent terrorism.
It is fair to say that I am afraid. Perhaps petrified, after seeing headlines about the April 7th terrorist attack that killed an Italian tourist after a car rammed into a pedestrian walkway right across the street from the Tel Aviv hotel where my family will be staying. Or after hearing about my peers who traveled to Israel over spring break and got caught up amid a large and intense protest.
However, Israel feels relatively safe coming from the United States, where mass shootings occur daily. As a student at the University of Southern California in South Central Los Angeles, I get regular notifications of nearby crime alerts from the school’s Department of Public Safety (DPS). My campus is also only thirteen miles away from Monterey Park — where ten were killed, and ten more were wounded, in a mass shooting at a Chinese-owned ballroom dance studio during a Lunar New Year celebration. Such violence seems inevitable in large United States cities, but I equally fear gun violence in towns of all sizes, like my hometown in Florida.
I grew up in Jupiter, Florida, a small picturesque beach town along the state’s Atlantic coast. For most of my childhood, Florida was a swing state politically. I was always on the edge of my seat on election nights, wondering whether the state would vote red or blue. However, due to recent party polarization and a Covid-spawned influx of more conservative voters from other states, Florida has turned sharply to the right.
The recent vote in the Florida Legislature to allow people to carry concealed firearms without a state permit, which Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law, is a reckless move that will likely increase gun violence in the state. It is alarming that anyone over eighteen can now have a handgun in their pocket without any background check or safety training. This decision shows a disregard for the safety and well-being of Floridians, especially considering the state’s history of tragic mass shootings, such as the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that killed 49 innocent people or the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre that took the lives of 17 students and staff members in Parkland, not far south of where I went to high school.
The statistics are clear: gun violence rates are on the rise in Florida; an average of 2,849 people die from guns each year in the state, according to EveryStat.org. Lawmakers must prioritize public safety over political gain and recognize the dangerous implications of this decision. Most handgun shootings result from unhinged aggressive individuals who cannot handle conflicts peacefully. Lawmakers enable these individuals to act out their aggression with deadly consequences by allowing anyone to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.
From spending my elementary school years having monthly school shooting drills where I huddled in the corner with my classmates in fear, knowing that we would still be out of luck if it were not a drill, to being part of an oft-targeted minority group in the United States, I live with the constant worry of possibly being shot due to my country’s lenient gun policy.
Jewish people have always been a target of violence in the United States. In 2018, 11 people died in an antisemitism-fueled synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the assailant had an AR15 assault rifle and three handguns. This past February, two men were shot after leaving synagogue services in Los Angeles, again not far from my school.
It is scary to be a Jew anywhere, let alone a global citizen.
By discussing the horrors of gun violence in the United States, I am not diminishing the challenges befalling Israel. I am instead explaining the lengthy version of my answer as to why I feel relatively safe spending my summer in The Promised Land.
If there is one thing the Israeli government should be praised for, it is its gun ownership laws for the general population. Israeli citizens can carry weapons under specific conditions, such as living or working in an area with heightened security risks. But, it is still a lengthy application process, and eligible people can only own a single gun with fifty bullets. I think these laws are reasonable, given Israel’s history of external terrorism and violence. These laws keep people who genuinely need to protect themselves safe, but do not allow virtually anyone over the age of eighteen to purchase any kind of weapon, in any quantity, for no reason other than it is their constitutional right.
This summer, I look forward to spending time in a country where I do not need to wonder whether the person beside me has a gun in their pocket. I look forward to sitting on a warm Tel Aviv beach, sipping a mango nectar, and knowing I am not sunbathing amidst an armed army of random beachgoers. Because, unfortunately, that is what Florida is becoming.