In learning about how the Israeli National Police work, it is clear that one of the most significant differences lies in dealing with terror attacks and the psychology of the Israelis. We heard from a speaker who was the Chief of Police in Haifa at the time of the Maxim terrorist bombing. He shared with us the tragic story of this restaurant, owned by Arabs and Jews, which was blown up in 2003 by a female suicide bomber. Twenty-one people were killed and many more injured. We learned how the Police handled the scene in the aftermath of such a tragedy and how quickly they attempted to return the scene to “normal.” According to the Chief, the most sophisticated type of bomb is the suicide bomber. They can choose where and when to strike. This particular person was planning to strike at a hospital, but decided to stop for lunch first. When she saw that the restaurant was filled with people, she walked to a spot in the center of the building and detonated the bomb. She was a young lawyer whose brother had been killed years before, and she was trained by extremists in Jenin, only a 20 minute drive from the restaurant, where among the dead, lay three generations of the same family.
We continued our day with a drive along Road 65 which connects Tel Aviv to the northern part of the West Bank. Prior to the security fence there were five suicide bombers on this road alone. After the fence that number went to zero. We met with the former head of Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau to begin to understand the many threats on the borders. He talked about the Israeli people being targets both in Israel and abroad, as we saw last year in Bulgaria, and how the government works hard to supply better security to the Jewish communities abroad.
Our final day was full as we traveled to Kfar Saba and met with the Chief Superintendent of the police station there. One of the most impressive things we heard is that the station serves 200,000 people in an urban environment with only 180 officers. We also learned about the large number of volunteers that serve with the police. These volunteers (AGE 16 TO 72) have almost every responsibility of the regular police, including carrying weapons. These volunteers are absolutely vital to the success of the police. We heard from one volunteer who is actually an attorney/accountant but gives approximately eight hours per week to help his community. He believes it is his way of giving back. We were all impressed with the volunteers’ commitment to the police, as well as the obvious appreciation that the police have for these community members who serve with them.
Our final stop was Ben Gurion, where we had an inside look at the circles of security at the airport from Roni Tidhar, Head of Security. Ben Gurion is the gold standard of airport security throughout the world, and it was fascinating to see the effort that is put in to securing each and every passenger, while still creating a welcoming environment. It could serve as a metaphor for the security philosophy of the entire country.
As we had our closing dinner, we reflected on our experiences and the journey we had taken together. As one Police Chief says, “This trip has completely changed my perspective on Israel. Not that it was bad, but I didn’t care much because I had no reason to care. This has changed forever.”