BY RON FEINBERG / WEB EDITOR //

When guns and gun control become big news in the U.S., as often as not Israel becomes part of the conversation.

This young woman carts around her IDF weapon as she runs errands in Jerusalem. PHOTO / Malka Riesenberg

This young woman carts around her IDF weapon as she runs errands in Jerusalem. PHOTO / Malka Riesenberg

Generally, the connection is made when a commentator on one of the cable networks or a newspaper editorial writer points out, and rightly so, that weapons are as common as falafel in the Jewish homeland.

The “journalists” – and I use that term in its broadest definition – usually offer little context or perspective. But what they report about guns in the Holy Land is, mostly, the gospel truth: They’re everywhere.

Need proof? My friend Malka snapped this photo last summer of a teenager getting some cash at an ATM in Jerusalem. Assault weapons are just about as common in Israel as the ubiquitous jeans and camisole the teen’s wearing; just a little metal accessory that brings out the highlights in her hair!

Most Americans visiting Israel for the first time are caught a bit off-guard by all the weapons carted about by IDF troops, many like this oh-so-young woman in civilian clothes. It all seems so alien to the way we live our lives in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In the Jewish homeland, it’s part of everyday life! Soldiers are responsible for their weapons, even when off-duty, and often have nowhere to stash them. So they carry them on errands, when visiting friends or out for a casual drink.

It’s not at all uncommon to spot a guy or girl in a bathing suit, strolling along the Mediterranean with friends, an assault weapon slung casually over their shoulders.

If you happen to be at one of the central bus stations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa on a Sunday morning – the beginning of the work week in Israel – then you’ll have a chance to see just how much weaponry is actually in circulation in this tiny nation.

I wasn’t around in the 1940s, but I imagine the coming and going of youngish troops in Israel – armed and smartly decked out in an array of colorful uniforms – is a mirror image of what the U.S. probably looked like during the dark days of World War II.

In Israel, troops returning to their duty bases can be spotted with Dror light machine guns, Uzi pistols, submachine guns, Galil assault rifles, the occasional high-powered sniper rifle, a wide range of handguns and, of course, the omnipresent M-16s.

At first glance, it might seem like the wild and wooly West has been reborn in the Middle East. But after a moment or so, the weapons and soldiers seem a natural part of this place, just another interesting ingredient – along with Sabra wit, falafel, serpentine streets and mystical secrets – that makes Israel special.

So snap away with your digital cameras at the teens and their assault rifles. You’ll find them most everywhere. They don’t seem to mind the candid camera hijinks of tourists, and, believe it or not, all those weapons make Israel one of the safest countries in the world for visitors.

A final note: Here’s hoping that one day soon the weapons in Israel will disappear, along with all the reasons that make them necessary! I’m also thinking it would be a good thing if U.S. lawmakers could take a cue from their counterparts in the Knesset and come up with a sensible approach to gun ownership and regulations in the coming year.