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
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
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.