At 'Police Day,' First-graders Get to Play With Real Rifles and Machine Guns

The children shot paintball guns, looked at weapons and got a soaking from a police riot-dispersal water cannon.

Parents in the Kadima-Tzoran Local Council on Wednesday slammed the decision by two elementary schools to focus on crowd-control operations at a "Community and Police" day earlier this week. The children shot paintball guns, looked at weapons and got a soaking from a police riot-dispersal water cannon.

hand holding a gun

"An educational institution should educate for civic values and independent thought, not admiration for force," said Amit Sharon, whose daughter attends one of the schools. Border Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Moshe Fintzy said the program was authorized and coordinated with the Education Ministry. "We're not like Hezbollah, which train kids to commit suicide," he said.

Police units often hold community days in schools, including elementary school, but education officials say they usually focus on issues such as drugs, alcohol, or animal abuse. But the activity in the Yuvalim and Lev-Ran schools was focused mostly on breaking up protests.

The children were divided into two groups for the activities, one for first, second and third-graders and one for children in the fourth to sixth grades. The older ones shot paintball guns, among other activities. Other activities included demonstrations of mounted Border Police officers and the police canine unit.

The children saw how police officers monitor demonstrations and watched as a robot disarmed a bomb. Parents reported that as well as looking at weapons, children handled an M16 assault rifle, a machine gun and a pistol. The children were instructed to wash their clothes separately after getting sprayed with water mixed with noxious-smelling liquids, used to disperse crowds.

"My third-grade daughter now knows the weight of an M16 rifle," said Sharon. "That's not part of the knowledge I want a school to impart to children. I'm bothered by this introduction of militaristic materials. Instead of the school educating children to question and for critical thought, it delivers a pretty bland message about learning how to hold a weapon."

"The school hosted Border Police exhibitions before, but they were much more 'vegetarian,'" another parent said. "I don't think kids that young should be exposed to weapons. This really crosses the line."

He noted that although the children understood that all the weapons were used for dispersing demonstrations, there were no explanations about why people held protests or when they might need to be dispersed. "As far as they know now, all protests need to be disbanded by any means necessary. That's hardly education for democracy," he said.

But not all parents were opposed. Dudi Holtzman, whose daughters attend Yuvalim, said the children were very impressed by the demonstrations, "especially by the dogs that attacked and stopped someone on command. I don't understand their complaints - there's nothing wrong with demonstrating Border Police activities. It's part of the reality of life here. The kids' tender souls weren't hurt," he said.

"Sometimes I'm amazed by how anti-Israeli, antiestablishment and anti-police people can get," Fintzy said. "The purpose of community days is to bring kids closer to police, to show them the policeman is a positive figure."

Hagit Gur-Ziv, who teaches at the Kibbutzim College of Education, told Haaretz that while there was nothing wrong about police officers explaining the work of the police, "there's no justification for exposing first-graders to weapons and crowd control gear. No principal would let a kid bring a paintball gun to school, yet letting him handle an M16 seems to be okay," Gur-Ziv said.

The Education Ministry said in a response that the schools had "adopted" the Border Police. The activities were preceded by a lecture from the local community policing officer. "In the wake of questions from parents, the principals will reexamine the level of realism in the unit's demonstrations," the statement said.