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11-17-ADL—Israeli police
Harrison Weblog

2005 blog


Israeli police meet with San Diego
counterparts to discuss terrorism, November 17, 2005

By Donald H. Harrison

I recently found Israeli police commanders Ron Gertner of Netanya and Ofer Shomer of Jerusalem in a Mission Valley hotel coffee shop last month with Morris Causto, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.  Shomer, true to his name meaning “watchman,” observed me carefully as I strode toward the group, relaxing only after the introductions.  Force of habit had him position himself in such a way as to be able to keep one eye on the hotel entrance. Gertner, on the other hand, had a full view of the coffee shop.  Security experts that they are, they had each other’s backs.  They confessed to being somewhat amazed that people at other tables, in such an unguarded public place were so oblivious to passers-by. Of course, even after 9-11, that’s still typical of us Americans.

As chief superintendent for the Netanya area, Gertner commands a force of 225 officers to protect some 300,000 citizens. Tulkarem, a Palestinian city on the West Bank, is only 10 minutes drive away by Route 57.  Shomer commands 70 police in what is perhaps the Middle East’s most sensitive flashpoint area: East Jerusalem, home of the Old City, the Western Wall, The Temple Mount, The Dome of the Rock, the Mosque of Omar and many important Christian sites as well.  His police station works in close cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces and the Border Guard. Both men’s forces are supplemented by large numbers of part-time volunteer police officers.

On Casuto’s invitation, Gertner and Shomer had flown to San Diego to talk about terrorism with officers from various local law enforcement agencies. In the main, their subject was how Israeli police respond to such terrorist acts as a suicide bombing—the kind of tactics they employ to seal off an area, to scan the crowd for a second or third bomber, to work with paramedics, and so forth.

Shomer said that one of the “amazing” aspects of his work is that “I can deal with a terrorist and after five minutes, not even five minutes, I am coming back to the station and I have to deal with a missing person, or someone who is beating up his wife, and she wants my services, and she doesn’t care that I was five minutes ago with a terrorist and I understand it.  And that is why, because of the understanding, because of the awareness, we know we make a difference…”

Gertner commented that following a terrorist bombing, officers who have witnessed horrific scenes may need psychological help.  Today, in Israel, it is standard operating procedure for the officers “to get together, have people say how they feel, how they act, and then the most important thing is to get them back to work as soon as possible.”

“Because of the horror,” Gertner added, “you dream about it.  In one of my first attacks, I found the head of the terrorist (who had blown himself apart), so I took it and put it in a plastic bag. After a couple of nights in my dreams, the head came back to me, so you have to keep on working, and you can get over it.”  He doesn’t have the nightmares anymore.

Detective Kenn Nelson and Patrol Deputy Don Parker of the San Diego Sheriff’s Substation in Santee and California Highway Patrol Officer Joel Arding were among the local law enforcement officers who met with the two Israelis.

”What they do is different; they are several years ahead of us on the curve,” commented Parker. “The huge difference I see that stands out immediately, is that when a homicide bomber explodes himself, that scene is processed and cleared within that day.  If that would have happened here, the whole block would be cordoned off for days, the media would be all abuzz, there would be rows and rows of media tents there, just like it was at 9-11.”  In Israel, he commented, a city can return quickly to its routine after such an incident; “the idea is not to give the terrorists the idea that they have succeeded.”

Nelson said that in contrast to previous lecturers who were academic experts on terrorism and counter-terrorism, Shomer and Gertner spoke the language of their law enforcement colleagues.  Not only do the two Israelis deal with terrorism but on a daily basis their commands also deliver such routine police services as investigating burglaries and homicides, mediating disputes between neighbors, and providing traffic control. 

Arding said he was impressed by the “scope of the trauma”  that  the Israeli police officials had been exposed to.  In the United States, he said, the stress level of a policeman can be very high, with violence, or a horrible crash, taking a psychological toll on the officer.  For example, he said, he was shaken up five years ago after one of his CHP colleagues, Sean Nava, was killed by a drunk driver on the Interstate 5  while Nava was in the process of investigating another crash

However, Arding noted, these experiences are not nearly so frequent, nor intense, as the situations that the Israeli police face.  The idea of getting not only the terror scene—but also the officers—back to routine and “returning to the mundane—I think their theory is correct,” Arding said.

Casuto said he would like to build on Gertner’s and Shomer’s meetings here by arranging for a delegation of local law enforcement officers to travel to Israel to observe procedures and tactics first-hand.  Any local philanthropist who feels strongly about combating terrorism, while strengthening U.S.-Israeli relationships, is encouraged to contact Casuto at the ADL offices at (619) 293-3770.