The founder of a program designed to encourage graduates of pre-army training programs and hesder yeshivas (which combine military service and religious study) to join the police force says his approach is the best way to place members of the religious Zionist community into key police positions. The program, called "Mehina Lechaim," ("Preparation for Life") was established by Nahi Eyal (and should be distinguished from a program with the same name for youth with disabilities).

Eyal's program has about 18 students in the current class, which over a year and a half combines preparation to become a policeman and religious studies.

Eyal said Orthodox Israeli Jews have left staffing of the ranks of the Israel Police to other segments of society, and expressed the hope that in another decade or two, the police commander for the West Bank district of the Israel Police would be a religious Jewish West Bank resident, who would have a number of other Orthodox Jewish colleagues among senior police ranks.

"We have to begin to find our way into the command ranks of the organization," he said.

Eyal, 49, founded the Elisha "mehina," or pre-army course, and remained at its helm until four years ago. He is also the director of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel and the director general of the National Union, an alliance of right-wing political parties.

The decision to enlist the cooperation of the police was a difficult one for Eyal personally in light of the fact that his son was seriously injured in 2006 in the violent confrontation involving the police over the evacuation of the West Bank outpost of Amona. "Amona was one big police crime for which no one paid the price," Eyal said.

"My son was 15 then and he and his friends paid a very heavy price. A policeman who was [involved] in the evacuation tried to murder him with a baton when he hit [my son] three times in the head and [my son's] pulse stopped in the ambulance," Eyal said. "This was the event in which I understood that we needed to do something."

In subsequent years, Eyal sought to get back at the police, collecting information in an effort to cast a negative light on the Israel Police and to embarrass the force, but he said he ultimately realized this would not achieve his goals. "If you want to change something, you have to do it from within the organization. You have to get inside and lead it," he said.

He expressed the hope that within a decade members of the religious Zionist population would feel comfortable serving in the police force and that there would be at least five religious officers of a rank just below the head of the police force, "who would know what it means to send a force to evict residents," as he put it. "I have no doubt that if there were religious senior officers at Amona, this would not have happened," he said in reference to the 2006 confrontation.

"The image of the Israel Police among our public is a problematic and difficult one," he said in a reference to the religious Zionist public. For its part, however, the Israel Police has shown an interest in accepting students from the hesder yeshivas, apparently out of a desire to recruit quality staff and in an effort to diffuse tensions among the population of West Bank settlements.

Although official police policy is that members of the Israel Police must serve anywhere they are sent, unofficially, the Israel Police have said the recruits from the hesder yeshivas have been given assurances that they will serve in the center of the country and will not to be sent to serve in the West Bank.

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