As of today, the MASHAZ is a division in the "Police and Community" branch of the Israeli Police. The MASHAZ is managed and supported by the police which provide weapons, equipment, training and police officers who command local MASHAZ bases (each settlement has one or several MASHAZ bases). Although the MASHAZ is operated by the police, its manpower consists mainly of civilian volunteers. Members are trained to provide the initial response to a security situation until the police arrive. All MASHAZ volunteers are armed with M1 Carbines and personal handguns (if the member has a civilian gun license). Contrary to common belief, private firearms ownership in Israel is very heavily regulated, and MASHAZ membership qualifies citizens of all faiths to own and carry handguns, even while off duty. Most citizens of Israel have no chance of being eligible to own a firearm of any kind.
The MASHAZ is composed mainly from "Classic" קלאסי volunteers which do patrols (in car or foot) once in a while. They go through basic training and have limited police powers while on duty. They may apprehend a suspected person or even make an arrest if necessary. They are equipped with glow-in-the-dark police jacket and communication with their base. They return their gear at the end of their duty.
There are also MATMID מתמי"ד volunteers which operate far more intensively than "Classic"s in regular police work. YATAM ית"מ volunteers mainly operate in traffic control. Both MATMID and YATAM are more like volunteer policemen. They have almost all the authorities of a regular policeman. They receive advance training and wear regular police uniforms.
The MASHAZ also have special units (such as snipers, dune buggy riders, bike-riders, cavalry and divers), but their members have to go through additional training and have a higher level of commitment (they serve a lot more hours).
In 2004, MASHAZ reportedly had some 70,000 volunteers.
The MASHAZ was established in July 10, 1974 as a group of civilians volunteered to do night patrols in near-border neighborhoods, which were exposed to Palestinian terror attacks, and in particular following the Ma'alot massacre of May 15, 1974.
Later, the focus was shifted from counter terror patrols to assist daily police work such as fighting crime and neigborhood violence.