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"Top Cops Danced on the Tables," screamed the headline all the way across the news page in the mass-circulation daily Ma'ariv on Sunday. This just goes to show that when the police force wants to, it knows how to behave with suitable restraint. After all, like our region's leaders, they could have danced on the rooftops. "The police held a victory party as though they had just returned from Entebbe," is how Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On described the media blitz that the police carried out when it became clear to them that they had their hands on the serial rapist Benny Sela.

From all corners of the country, the heads of the police sped to Nahariya to celebrate the victory and get their pictures taken. It was quite embarrassing to hear the heroic policeman relate over and over again how like a lion he had pursued Benny Sela through the fields, how he leaped on him and knocked him to the ground. Only at the end of the description of his heroism did he let it slip that he hadn't known it was the escaped rapist whom he was pursuing. In fact he thought he was chasing a car-thief. To some extent, our policeman was lucky; with the same enthusiasm he could have overwhelmed some innocent citizen.

Only when he arrived at the police station in Nahariya was it discovered that our policeman had nabbed Benny Sela. Bingo! Weak, perspiring, broken and hungry, he was assaulted by police in civvies with the unmistakable glint of vengeance in their eyes, who displayed him forcibly and violently to the eyes of the media cameramen. His tortured face revealed what the eye did not see: how detectives, with a smile of victory on their lips, were forcibly twisting his arms and tilting his head back so that the photographers would see his unphotogenic face. They did not even give him the opportunity that is given to murderers and robbers, of covering his face in public. The lawmen apparently had never heard that the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom also applies to prisoners.

"The media pressured us," senior police officers claimed afterwards in justification of the police mugging. In any case, it was a disgusting celebration, of what even in our very own funny farm is not considered a victory. While the police were abusing a mentally ill prisoner, the prime minister personally phoned to congratulate Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, as though he had brought about a dazzling victory for the Beitar soccer team.

The police force, which had already received a dressing-down from Amos Yaron, related to Sela's capture as though it had caught a wild beast of prey after a bold, heroic chase, and it was necessary to skewer it immediately. The pictures of his capture were reminiscent of the humiliating treatment of Saddam Hussein, whose mouth and teeth were examined under the camera lights. Precisely in Human Rights Week (which incidentally also applies to prisoners), the police commanders promised that he would pay with many years for his escape attempt. Meaning, by implication, for having shown the police force in the fullness of its impotence.

The serial rapist refused to be interrogated (what, in fact, is there to investigate when the police force's blunder is so exposed?), and he said only a single sentence as he entered the car that took him to Rimonim Prison: that he was surprised by the slowness with which he was captured. This statement shows the police department in its full wretchedness. His adoptive family, the man whose Honda he had stolen and a few other citizens who bombarded the police switchboard with calls are the ones who ultimately led to his arrest. The prize on his head of NIS 100,000 will be split among many citizens, but it is doubtful that any police will be among them.

The unbearable ease with which a serial rapist, a person who is mentally ill, succeeded in escaping from a courthouse yard in Tel Aviv deranged the police. At least during the first days, thousands of police in Tel Aviv on horseback and in helicopters, police in the uniforms of assault units, swarmed and, according to an old joke, searched for the dead horse under the street lamp. Now that Sela is in their hands, they will undoubtedly make his life a misery. He will be held in a kind of narrow solitary confinement cell and he will be entirely cut off from other prisoners, but he will enjoy the proximity as his neighbor of Yigal Amir, who is also a security-police blunder.

Benny Sela has lit a red warning light about the level of functioning of the state enforcement branches, which suffer from operational laxity and carelessness. How are we going to deal with the looming clouds of war that are threatening us from the North? How are we going to cope with the Tehran psychopath's nuclear threat when a local psychopathic serial rapist succeeds in making a laughingstock of the country?